Saskatchewan grapples with surge in syphilis cases

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Saskatchewan grapples with surge in syphilis cases

Infections are concentrated in First Nations, but remain high among Indigenous people who live outside their communities and the general population, according to Dr. Ibrahim Khan.

In Saskatchewan, syphilis cases have been on the rise since the start of the year, particularly in First Nations communities. Between January 1 and June 30, 411 cases of the sexually transmitted disease were reported in Indigenous communities, a 900% jump from 2019.

During the same period in 2019, only 40 cases were reported, according to Ibrahim Khan, Regional Medical Officer of Health for Indigenous Services Canada.

We are very concerned. A large proportion of these people are homeless or have a precarious socioeconomic status and do not have access to care, he says

Dr. Khan believes the pandemic and increased testing have played a significant role in the spike in syphilis cases.

< p>“Due to extensive restrictions and isolation measures. People couldn't get drug tests and blood tests, or see a doctor at the start of the pandemic.

— Ibrahim Khan, Regional Medical Officer of Health at Indigenous Services Canada

Beardy and Okemasis Cree Nation, located about 80 kilometers north of Saskatoon, is among the communities now seeing an uptick in infections. She posted a health notice on Tuesday to raise awareness.

We have upcoming information sessions, Facebook live sessions to answer questions and screening days , wrote the management team.

Cases of infection are certainly highly concentrated in Indigenous communities, but they are just as high among Indigenous people who live outside their communities or other people who live in cities and towns, says Dr. Khan.

He adds that there are more pregnant women in Saskatchewan who are infected, which is of particular concern as they run the risk of transmitting the disease to their unborn children. This can sometimes cause birth defects or death.

Indigenous Services Canada is working with Medical Officers of Health in Saskatoon, Regina, Battleford and Yorkton.

Dr. Khan is particularly concerned about access to tests for pregnant Aboriginal women.

More pregnant women are getting infected in Saskatchewan, which is particularly concerning because pregnant women with syphilis can pass the disease on to their unborn child, according to Dr. Khan.

It clarifies that this is the group that is hardest to reach or has the most difficulty in overcoming barriers to treatment such as testing clinics.

“This summer, we really need to focus on people who are at risk or in need of care and treatment.

— Ibrahim Khan, Regional Medical Officer of Health at Indigenous Services Canada

Syphilis is a preventable and treatable disease. It manifests as sores in the genital area and can be cured with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can cause permanent neurological problems and even death.

Syphilis rates in Saskatchewan are usually two to three times higher than the national rate. They are considerably higher among First Nations. This is also the case for HIV and tuberculosis.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says that the rate of syphilis infections has increased dramatically in country over the past decade. Numerous outbreaks have also been reported over the past five years.

Meanwhile, the rate of syphilis cases in Saskatchewan increased by 891% from 2016 to 2020, according to the federal agency.

In 2019, an outbreak was declared in the center northern Saskatchewan after 21 cases were confirmed between August and November.

In 2020, the rate of syphilis was 308.8 cases per 100 000 people in First Nations communities, compared to a rate of 24.6 per 100,000 in Canada, according to data provided by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Indigenous Services Canada.

The First Nations rate was about 13 times higher than the national rate, and 4 times higher than the Saskatchewan rate in 2020.

The province continues to see an increase and reported a rate of 633.2 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people in 2021 in First Nations communities.

With information from Yasmine Ghania

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