Sask. Health Authority declares HIV and syphilis outbreaks in North Battleford, Lloydminster areas!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_620/beach-garbage.jpg

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has declared outbreaks of syphilis and HIV in the area of the Battlefords and Lloydminster.

Fifteen new cases of HIV were reported in North Battleford between January and May 31. During the same time, 42 new cases of syphilis were reported in the Battlefords and Lloydminster area.

“HIV and syphilis are treatable diseases. It is important that individuals who are sexually active know their own status for HIV and syphilis,” said Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu, Medical Health Officer Area Lead North with the SHA, in a news release.

“Knowing your status means that treatment can be provided and individuals can be helped to reduce the risk of spreading the illness.”

The average number of HIV cases in the area is four per year. The annual number of syphilis cases is usually about seven or less.

Concern about infectious cases

Nsungu told reporters most of the cases they see in a year are not infectious, unlike this recent outbreak.

“What we’re seeing now is that most of those cases we’ve seen from January until now are actually infectious cases,” he said. “That makes it even more concerning.”

The rise of intravenous drug use and people sharing needles is the primary cause of the rise in cases, the SHA said.

Nsungu said an SHA investigation of the outbreak will look at whether the outbreak is attributable to an increase in testing.

“Or is it something that people are doing differently from what was done in the past? Those are the type of things that we’ll be looking at when it comes to investigating the outbreak,” he said.

When asked if a safe injection site would help address the outbreak, Nsungu said they have been shown to help prevent the spread of HIV.

“There is evidence from elsewhere that those services actually are effective in preventing further cases of HIV transmission,” he said.

Nsungu said he was concerned about pregnant women, since syphilis can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to an unborn baby.

He said some of the syphilis cases in the recent outbreak were in pregnant women, but they were tested and treated. To date, he said there have been no cases of congenital syphilis in the region affected by the outbreak.

Syphilis a ‘misleading’ disease

Nsugnu said another aspect of the outbreak that concerned him was that syphilis “can be very misleading.”

“The disease can evolve for a long time without any symptoms,” he said. “But the consequences are always very serious.

“Those consequences, actually, or complications to be more specific, can occur even decades later after the infection has been acquired.”

The SHA said medical teams are in the area testing, treating and connecting people with services that could reduce risks, free of charge and confidential.

Anyone wanting to get tested can do so at a sexual health centre, a walk-in clinic or the emergency room, if necessary.

HIV and syphilis are asymptomatic in a lot of cases, the SHA noted. Syphilis can also spread through direct contact with an open sore.