Syphilis in babies: Cases skyrocket in Canada

Toronto –

The number of babies born with syphilis in Canada is increasing at a much faster rate than has been recorded in the United States or Europe. Public health experts say the increase is caused by increased methamphetamine use and a lack of access to public health systems for indigenous peoples.

Syphilis has had a global flare-up in the last five years, but Canada is an anomaly among wealthy nations, with a 13-fold increase in five years, according to Health Canada. According to Health Canada data, the incidence of babies born with syphilis will reach 26 per 100,000 live births in 2021, the most recent year available, up from her two in 2017. Increased has.

That total is set to rise further in 2022, according to preliminary government data obtained by Reuters.

Babies with congenital syphilis are at increased risk of low birth weight, bone malformations, and sensory deficits. According to the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to WHO, syphilis in pregnancy is the second leading cause of stillbirth worldwide.

However, congenital syphilis can be easily prevented if an infected person has access to penicillin during pregnancy.

Among wealthy G7 groups with available data, only the United States had a high incidence of syphilis at birth. Preliminary figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it at 74 per 100,000 live births in 2021, and in 2017 he’s tripled. Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2021, there were 2,677 cases of congenital syphilis among 332 million people in the United States, according to preliminary data from the CDC. In Canada, he had 96 cases against a population of 38 million, according to Health Canada.

People experiencing poverty, homelessness, drug use and poor access to health care systems are more likely to contract syphilis through unsafe sex and pass it on to their babies, public health researchers say. has said.

“In high-income countries, some of the disadvantaged populations are affected,” said Teodora Elvira Wie, who works with the WHO’s HIV, Hepatitis and STIs Programme.

“This is an indicator of inequality. It is an indicator of poor prenatal care.”

Sean Rourke, a scientist at the Li Ka-shing Institute of Knowledge at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, who focuses on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, says what makes Canada stand out is that it experiences discrimination and often lacks access to health and social services. Indigenous peoples with inadequate access to the disease.

“It’s the whole system and all the things we’ve done badly for not supporting indigenous communities,” he said.

Health Canada told Reuters it had sent epidemiologists to help provinces contain the rise in congenital syphilis. Spokesperson Joshua Koch said the federal government is expanding access to testing and treatment in Indigenous communities.

Tessa, a 28-year-old Indigenous woman who asked only to give her middle name, said she was meth addicted and homeless for years when she became pregnant in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

“I would just walk down the street crying, ‘Why am I living like this?'” she told Reuters.

She said she didn’t receive prenatal care until she gave birth in November.

Her daughter was prescribed a 10-day course of antibiotics, was given an IV and is now healthy, Tessa said. Thinking about difficulties.

“Maybe having transportation, having a place to live, and being sober probably helped a lot,” she said.

Health care providers need to do more to expand access to care, said Suzanne Nikolay, head nurse at Wellness Wheel Clinic in Regina, Saskatchewan. “The system is always talking about hard-to-reach patients. But I think it’s the health care providers that are hard to reach,” she said.

“Multiple Failures”

It takes a lot of missteps for a baby to be born with syphilis, said Jared Bullard, a Manitoba pediatrician who is studying babies born with syphilis in an ongoing Public Health Service of Canada study starting in 2021. .

“It points to multiple failures along the way,” he said.

In Canada, the increase in babies born with syphilis is concentrated in three prairie provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Prairie State has high rates of methamphetamine use and a remote population and indigenous peoples who may have problems accessing healthcare, Bullard said.

Manitoba recorded the highest incidence rate, approximately 371 per 100,000 live births in 2021.

In an emailed statement, the state said it was expanding training for health care providers to deal with sexually transmitted infections, encouraging frequent testing and early treatment. It has turned into.

Saskatchewan has launched a public awareness campaign to encourage people to practice safe sex and get tested, said Dale Hunter, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health. had an incidence of 185 cases of congenital syphilis per 100,00 live births.

Alberta said women aged 15 to 29 accounted for more than half of what it called a “significant increase” in syphilis rates. A number of factors may have contributed to this increase,” said Alberta Health Service spokesman James Wood.

In preliminary results of a study of 165 infants exposed to syphilis, Bullard and fellow pediatrician Kirsten Kruger found that at least two-thirds were born to women who reported a history of substance abuse. I discovered that

About 45% of the women identified as indigenous and another 40% had no ethnicity recorded. Indigenous peoples make up about 5% of Canada’s population, according to census data.

About a quarter of those surveyed did not receive prenatal care and were not tested. About one-fifth of those who tested positive did not receive treatment. Bullard said he’s also seen people who were treated early in pregnancy and then re-infected.

Public health researchers and clinicians say the incidence of congenital syphilis began to increase before the pandemic and worsened as public health agencies diverted resources to COVID-19 testing and other pandemic-related health measures. says.

Ameeta Singh, an infectious disease specialist who practices HIV/STIs in Edmonton, Alberta, said:

Health Canada approved tests for syphilis and HIV this month. The test takes him less than a minute and the provider can begin treatment immediately.

Some public health researchers and providers are asking the Canadian government to buy and distribute the tests.

“It would probably take a million tests to go nationwide,” Rourke said. “The solution is in front of us.”

Health Canada did not respond when asked about purchasing test kits.

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