The province is seeing its highest rates of infectious syphilis in 30 years, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
In new figures released Monday, the agency said cases of infectious syphilis rose by 33 per cent in 2018, compared with 2017. There were 919 new cases in 2018.
The majority of people with syphilis in B.C. are gay, bisexual, or otherwise are men having sex with men, although cases of syphilis in women ages 15 to 49 rose by nearly 40 per cent between 2018 and 2017.
“After seeing syphilis infections decrease for several years, rates of syphilis began to climb again earlier this decade,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “We are currently working with our partners to see what more we can do to reduce the number of infections but we also need the public to be aware of the risk and to be proactive about testing and treatment.”
The increase in syphilis cases among women has led the CDC to change their pregnancy screening guidelines. This means that in addition to routine screening during the first trimester pregnancy, and ongoing screening throughout for higher risk patients, it’s now recommended that all pregnant patients get tested again just before they give birth.
Babies born to mothers with syphilis can get congenital syphilis, where the infection is passed from mother to child. Syphilis during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, long-term neurological issues, bone deformities, deafness, or even stillbirth.
Two cases of congenital syphilis were diagnosed in B.C. in 2019, after no cases for many years.