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Reports Show Congenital Syphilis Spikes 2,345% in Ontario and 599% in Canada

Rates of syphilis during pregnancy have risen a whopping 2,345 percent in Ontario in just four years, according to recently released government data.

Cases of congenital syphilis—where the disease is passed to a baby during pregnancy or at birth—have increased substantially across Canada, rising 599 percent between 2018 and 2022, the last year for which figures are available.
While Ontario’s increase is far and away the largest of all of the provinces, Manitoba saw a 199 percent increase in cases while Alberta’s caseload shot up 420 percent, Health Canada stats show.
Figures released by Public Health Ontario (PHO) this year revealed this previously rare disease is now hitting numbers that haven’t been observed in decades.

Twenty-seven cases of early congenital syphilis were recorded in the province in 2022—up from five in 2020, according to a PHO report. Between 2014 and 2019, there were only one or two cases each year, with no cases at all in 2013.

Dr. Ari Bitnun, an infectious disease physician at the Hospital for Sick Children, told The Toronto Star that congenital syphilis was all but unheard of before 2018 with doctors rarely seeing an actual case.

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“All of a sudden, it was all over the place,” Dr. Bitnun said. “We’re getting calls all the time from pediatricians about a baby born to a mom who didn’t get treated properly.”

The Epoch Times reached out to PHO for comment but did not hear back by publication time.

Congenital Syphilis in the Prairies

Alberta Health Services says the rise of congenital syphilis in the province has resulted in more than 290 infants being born with the disease since 2014. Alberta’s health agency described the illness in a post on its website as “life threatening,” with up to 20 percent of infected babies being stillborn.

Although Saskatchewan’s percentage stats weren’t included in the Health Canada data, the province has reported an increase in congenital syphilis with 68 cases, including eight stillbirths, between 2019 and 2022.

Congenital syphilis stems from untreated syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems but can typically be cured with antibiotics.

Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can lead to a number of complications for babies such as skin rashes, jaundice, meningitis, cerebral palsy, enlarged liver and spleen, severe anemia, fluid in the brain, bone and joint deformity, and brain and nerve problems such as blindness or deafness, Health Canada said. It can also cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

Infectious Syphilis on the Rise

Infectious syphilis is also becoming more common, according to Health Canada. There were 13,953 cases in Canada in 2022, with a rate of 36.1 per 100,000 population.

The 2022 national rate of infectious syphilis was 11 percent higher than in 2021 and 109 percent higher than in 2018.

Ontario accounts for 3,437 of the country’s more than 13,000 cases, followed by Alberta with 3,326 cases, government data shows.

The growing numbers prompted Alberta to declare a syphilis outbreak in 2019 with 2,331 cases reported that year.

“We are seeing a continuing increase in syphilis in the past several years that is deeply concerning,” reads a post on the Alberta Health Services website. “The rate of syphilis has increased by more than 18 times since 2014, when only 160 cases were reported. Alberta has not seen such high levels of syphilis since the 1940s.”

Public Health Ontario’s report shows infectious syphilis has been on the rise since 2013 but reached its highest level in 2022—23.6 cases per 100,000. Thunder Bay and the Kingston area have been hardest hit with incidence rates increasing by more than 250 percent between 2020 and 2022.

Syphilis Hot Spots

While Ontario and Alberta had the highest number of syphilis cases between 2018 and 2022, Yukon and Saskatchewan had the largest increases at 2,344 percent and 1,444 percent respectively.

Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sudit Ranade called the rise in cases “concerning.”

“Last year, the rate of syphilis in the Yukon continued to escalate, surpassing any recorded rate in the territory since at least 1979,” he said in a 2023 press release. “The best way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested.”

Saskatchewan said syphilis case rates in the province have been steadily growing since 2017 with a marked increase observed in 2019.

“Case rates are increasing most rapidly among heterosexual populations and are now higher in women than men,” reads a government post, adding that “elevated rates of infection continue to occur in gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men.”

Manitoba, which had 1,912 cases between 2018 and 2022, saw its capital city become an epicenter for the disease.

Winnipeg recorded its first instance of infectious syphilis in 2018 after more than four decades with no cases, according to a 2022 Canada Communicable Disease Report. Syphilis rates went from 79.5 cases per 100,000 individuals in 2018 to 140.4 cases per 100,000 individuals by the following year.
Once in decline in much of North America, cases of syphilis are now soaring in the United States as well. Data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed there were more than 207,000 diagnosed syphilis cases in 2022, the highest number on record since the 1950s.

What Is Syphilis?

Symptoms of syphilis can be “subtle and easily missed,” Health Canada says. “The infection has four stages, each with different signs and symptoms. It can often look like other infections, earning it the nickname ‘the great imitator’.”

Headaches, vertigo, vision changes, coordination or balance issues, hearing loss or ringing in the ears, and dementia can occur at any stage of the disease, according to Health Canada. Primary symptoms may include swollen glands in the groin or neck, or a sore that’s firm, round, and painless on the lips, in the mouth or throat, or in the genital or anal area.

Common symptoms two to 12 weeks after exposure include fever, headache, hair loss, swollen glands in the groin or neck, wart-like sores, and a rash that commonly appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

“Untreated syphilis will then progress to a latent stage,” Health Canada says. “During this stage, you may not notice symptoms for up to 20 years.”

Late-stage or tertiary syphilis can impact the brain, heart, blood vessels, and nervous system and can eventually be fatal.

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