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Leeds, Grenville and Lanark health unit concerned over rise in syphilis cases

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Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (LGLDHU) is asking residents to consider getting tested for syphilis, as the public health unit monitors a rise in cases.

The health unit says there has been a steady increase in the number of cases over the years, with 6 in 2020, 18 in 2021, 19 in 2022 and 31 in 2023. It did not specify the number of cases so far this year.

"Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex with an infected partner, including through mutual masturbation and sharing of sex toys," a news release by the public health agency said.

"It can spread by direct contact with bacteria contained in syphilitic sores or rashes. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her infant during pregnancy."

With a timely diagnosis, it can usually be cured with antibiotics. Initial symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, swollen glands in the neck or groin, and the appearance of a firm and painless ulcer at the point of infection.

LGLDHU says there may not be noticeable symptoms.

“The LGL region is seeing a rise that's probably in keeping with what else is being seen in the province," said Dr. Linna Li, the medical officer of health and CEO of LGLDHU in an interview with CTV News.

"Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that has not been frequently seen in Ontario for some time."

Ottawa Public Health also saw a rise in infections last year. In 2023, there were 166 cases of infectious syphilis in the city and 129 in 2022. There have been 77 cases so far in 2024, the public health agency said in an email.

There were no cases of congenital syphilis reported, where the infection is transmitted to a fetus through pregnancy.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says cases of syphilis have doubled in the country since 2018.

There were 13,953 cases of infectious syphilis and 117 cases of congenital syphilis in the country in 2022, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

LGLDHU is involved with the University of Ottawa’s GetAKit program that provides at-home testing kits for HIV and other STI's.

Residents can access the health unit's online booking system to access sexual health clinics or can call the health unit directly at 1-800-660-5853.

Clinics in Brockville, Smiths Falls, Ganaoque, Kemptville and Almonte may also offer services to walk-ins, though appointments are encouraged.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Jack Richardson

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