Nova Scotia declares outbreak of syphilis, with female cases on the rise

FILE - In this May 23, 1944 file photo, the organism treponema pallidum, which causes syphilis, is seen through an electron microscope. Las Vegas is experiencing a syphilis outbreak, as health officials warn of a national spike in cases that some are tying to increased testing, as well as the prevalence of anonymous sex through social media and a less consistent use of condoms. (AP Photo, File)

HALIFAX  Nova Scotia is declaring a provincial outbreak of syphilis after seeing a jump in the number of cases last year.

Public health officials said today there were 82 cases recorded in 2019, compared with 50 in 2018 and 38 in 2017.

Twenty per cent of the cases last year were women, up from 10 per cent the year before.

The bacterial illness is a sexually transmitted infection and can be contracted through unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex.

Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, the deputy medical officer, says safer sex practices and getting tested for syphilis can help control the numbers of infections.

The illness is treatable with antibiotics, but later stages of syphilis can cause serious impacts to the brain, heart and other organs, and can even lead to death.

The last syphilis outbreak in the province was declared in the Halifax area in 2009, hitting a peak in 2013 with 84 cases that year.