Vancouver Coastal Health is asking gay men to get tested for syphilis as rates climb to the highest they’ve been in 30 years.
VCH says 97% of syphilis cases reported to them are male, and over 90% identify as gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men.
“In 2015, nearly 500 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in Vancouver Coastal Health, more than double the yearly cases reported a decade ago,” said Dr. Réka Gustafson, medical health officer with VCH in a statement.
“Because new infections continue to climb, we have initiated a formal outbreak response.”
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease contracted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some people don’t show symptoms and may not even know they have it, but the long-term effects can be dire. If left untreated, syphilis can cause blindness, hearing loss, deep bone pain, neurological problems, and sometimes it can be fatal.
The disease can be cured completely with antibiotics.
Vancouver Coastal Health said they’re collaborating with Positive Living BC, the BC Centre for Disease Control YouthCO and Health Initiative For Men to create a marketing campaign with “gay sex-positive imagery.” The campaign will launch on Valentine’s Day and will be featured everywhere from transit ads to newspapers and dating websites.
According to VCH, having syphilis increases the risk of contracting HIV.
Vancouver Coastal Health recommends men who have sex with men get tested for syphilis every three to six months and to talk to their doctor if they have sores, bumps, a rash, blisters, or warts around their genital or anal area.