On August 22, 2019, the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) declared a syphilis outbreak for the Northwest Territories.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that is on the rise in Canada and the NWT has seen a dramatic increase in rates since January 1, 2019.
Syphilis is spread through oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected person and increases the risk of contracting or spreading HIV. Left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems.
Syphilis symptoms include:
- painless open sores of ulcers in the genital area, throat, or anus
- hair loss
- swollen glands
Late-stage syphilis can do severe damage to the body, brain, blood vessels, heart, and bones. If it continues to progress untreated, syphilis can eventually lead to death.
In Yellowknife, call or text 867-446-5113 for confidential advice or to book an appointment.
For all other communities, please contact your local health centre.
One of the NWT cases included a newborn that was diagnosed with congenital syphilis. This is the first case of congenital syphilis in NWT since 2009 and occurs when a mother passes the syphilis infection on to her baby during pregnancy. It can cause very serious health issues including stillbirth, neonatal death, or severe chronic health conditions.
If you are pregnant, you should be tested for syphilis at least 3 times: in the first trimester, at 28-30 weeks and around the time of delivery. Even if you’re thinking about getting pregnant, take a syphilis test first.
If testing does not happen before delivery, it is very important that babies get tested when they are born.
Getting tested for syphilis is very important as it can be the only way to know if you have it. In many cases, someone can have syphilis but not have any symptoms, meaning they are spreading the infection without knowing.
Testing is done through a blood sample which will need to be administered by a health care provider.
Contact your local public health clinic or community health centre to book an appointment.
Syphilis is curable with antibiotic treatment, such as penicillin injections. Treatment in the earlier stages is far easier than living with the results of a long-standing syphilis infection.
If you are pregnant and are diagnosed with syphilis after testing, treatment is also available. Your doctor will order repeat syphilis blood tests during your pregnancy to make sure that the treatment worked.
It is very important that your partner(s) be notified, tested, and treated to prevent you from getting re-infected.
If you are sexually active, it is strongly recommended that you protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections by:
- using condom protection
- limit and know your sexual partners
- get tested for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections every time you have a new sexual partner. If you are not in a monogamous relationship, you should get tested more often.
For more information on syphilis in the NWT, please see:
- Syphilis Frequently Asked Questions
- Congenital Syphilis Fact Sheet (Government of Canada)
- Syphilis Rates in the NWT
- Rate of Syphilis by Year, Region and Gender
For additional resources on syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections, visit:
- Sexual Health (Government of Canada)
- irespectmyself.ca (Government of Nunavut)
- Naturally Curious (Pauktuutit)
- Pilimmaksarniq – Violence & Abuse Prevention (Pauktuutit)