September 9, 2004

Syphilis Outbreak Continues

Risk of HIV infection also identified

Four more confirmed cases of syphilis have been identified in the last month, bringing the total number to 62, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority reported today. Public health officials recently learned a number of the most recent cases involve people who are also HIV positive and have been engaging in anonymous casual sexual contacts – so-called one-night stands or brief sexual encounters.

WRHA Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Pierre Plourde said the trend is disturbing because there is no way to trace those contacts and inform them of their exposure to both HIV and syphilis and of the need to get tested and treated.

Dr. Plourde urged anyone who has had casual sexual encounters to see their physician and get tested.

In addition to heterosexual cases, the latest cases also involve men having casual sex with men after meeting at downtown establishments. Management of those facilities is working with Public Health to raise awareness of the issue.

The WRHA also unveiled its awareness campaign yesterday, comprised of posters, newspaper advertisements and personal ads.

Syphilis is a curable sexually transmitted infection. People with syphilis may not have any signs of illness – which is why it is important to be tested if they have had sexual contact with an unfamiliar partner, particularly if they did not use a condom. The most common symptoms associated with syphilis include a sore(s) (or ulcer) on the penis or vagina, or a rash anywhere on the body, often including the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. HIV can also be transmitted through unprotected sex. People with syphilis are at greater risk of contracting HIV.

Although condoms do not always stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, individuals participating in sexual activity with unfamiliar partners should always use condoms to help reduce their chance of becoming infected.

Individuals who want to get tested can either call their family doctor or 940-2200, the WRHA Sexually Transmitted Disease Information Line.

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