The Brunswickan (University of New Brunswick)
FREDERICTON (CUP) — The number of syphilis cases is rising in the province, according to a New Brunswick Public Health coordinator. The Student Health Centre at the University of New Brunswick is also dealing with a number of new cases.
“Our practitioners at the Student Health Centre have not noticed a change in the rate of STIs, with the exception that we are now seeing cases of syphilis,” said Stacey Taylor, a nurse practitioner at the Student Health Centre.
Karen Wilson, communicable disease coordinator with New Brunswick Public Health, says that the province is currently in outbreak mode for syphilis. Wilson says that an outbreak is a term used when rates are significantly higher than normal. Between 2010 and 2011, syphilis rates almost doubled among people aged 20 to 24.
The data from Public Health is preliminary, unpublished and was retrieved from the system in October 2011.
Syphilis progresses through four stages, and symptoms of this infection may include a sore on the genital area, rashes or red spots on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, hair loss, fever and sore throat, and muscle and joint aches. Syphilis is curable with antibiotics, usually by injecting penicillin into the infected person.
Taylor also said the two most common STIs the Student Health Centre sees are human papilloma virus (HPV) and chlamydia.
There are more than 100 strains of HPV, which can be present without any symptoms. Factsheets say that about three out of four sexually active Canadians will contract this virus at some point; for women, it can be detected during a routine pap test.
Chlamydia, like HPV, can often be present without symptoms. When symptoms are present, they include an unusual discharge from genitalia and burning while urinating. Taking antibiotics can cure this infection.
“It is important to be aware that chlamydial infections are frequently asymptomatic,” Taylor said. “An infected individual can therefore unknowingly spread the infection to their sexual partner or partners, and so on.”
Wilson told the Brunswickan that chlamydia rates have gone up ten per cent in the Fredericton area, and five per cent in the entire province. The two most commonly affected age groups are people aged 15 to 19 and 20 to 24. Gonorrhea rates have gone up five per cent in the province, and affect the same age groups as chlamydia.
Factsheets from the government of New Brunswick say that the people most at risk for sexually transmitted infections are those under 25 who are sexually active with multiple partners.
Taylor said that there are sometimes rises in the rates of chlamydia among students. However, the Student Health Centre does not track the rates of STIs among its patients.
“An increase in chlamydia rates in a brief period of time is not unusual, but overall the rates remain very consistent,” Taylor said. “The bottom line is that chlamydia has been, and continues to be, one of the most commonly seen STIs in this clinic.”
Wilson encouraged all people who are sexually active to practice safer sex by always using protection and getting tested for sexually transmitted infections regularly.