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Media Release: Individuals having unprotected sex urged to seek testing in response to increasing local rates of syphilis

Hastings and Prince Edward Counties/July 7, 2021 –Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is investigating a significant increase in local cases of syphilis. While syphilis rates have been gradually increasing across the province, a sudden increase is taking place in HPEC. 10 cases were reported in both 2019 and 2020, compared to a previous average of 2-3 cases per year. In comparison, 16 cases have already been reported in 2021, 7 of these in the month of June.

Who should get tested for syphilis?

Individuals from a variety of age groups, relationship statuses, and sexual orientations are testing positive – meaning that anyone who is having condomless or unprotected sexual contact could be at risk. Many of the symptoms of syphilis are mild and may not be noticed, or may mimic other illnesses. If you’ve had condomless/unprotected sex, have a new partner, or have more than one partner, talk to a health care provider about testing – even if you have not noticed any symptoms.  

Individuals in a relationship are also encouraged to consider testing, even if they have only one partner. If one partner is engaging in sexual activities outside of the relationship, they could be exposed to STIs and pass them on.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Symptoms of syphilis are often mild or may be attributed to other conditions. Early symptoms may include painless sores in the genital, mouth, or rectal area, swollen lymph nodes, rash, fever, malaise/general feeling of being unwell, sore throat, headaches, hair loss, and eye redness.

“While individuals may experience mild symptoms up to 6 months after exposure to syphilis, others might not experience or notice any symptoms at all, which makes it very easy to unknowingly pass the illness on to others,” says Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health and CEO at HPEPH. “If untreated, syphilis can lead to serious and long-term health complications including bone and organ damage, mental health problems, and even death. Syphilis is treatable when identified early – so please talk to your health care provider about testing if you have had unprotected sex.”  

Where can I get tested and/or treated for syphilis?

If you have had unprotected sex, visit your health care provider to discuss your risk and request testing for syphilis. If you do not have a health care provider, and are experiencing symptoms, visit the ER. If you are not experiencing symptoms but have had unprotected sex and have no health care provider, visit a walk-in clinic. It is important to seek testing as soon as possible, so that the illness can be identified and treated early.

How can I avoid exposure to STIs?

To avoid exposure to syphilis and other STIs, know your partner’s status. Get tested, and ask your partner(s) to get tested, especially if you are engaging in sexual activities with a new partner. If you aren’t aware or aren’t confident in their status, use a condom – every time. Avoid sharing sex toys, and take care when drinking or using drugs in order to avoid unplanned and/or unprotected sex.

For more information about STIs, visit our website or call the HPEPH Sexual Health Team at 613-966-5500, extension 418.

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Media Contacts:

Emily Tubbs, Communications Specialist
etubbs@hpeph.ca  

About Hastings Prince Edward Public Health

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is a public health agency that serves the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward from four local offices. We monitor the health of our local population, deliver programs and services within our communities, and help develop healthy public policies. We provide information and support in many areas to help improve the health and well-being of our residents. Together with our communities, we help people become as healthy as they can be. For more information, please visit hpePublicHealth.ca. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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COVID-19 VACCINES IN HPEPH

Individuals turning 12 and over in 2021 who have not yet had a first dose, or those who meet the minimum second dose interval are now eligible to attend HPEPH walk-in clinics. To view the schedule, visit the Booking and Eligibility Page.

If you attended a clinic and did not receive an email copy of your vaccination receipt you can download a copy off the provincial booking site at covid19.ontariohealth.ca.

PHARMACY-BASED VACCINATIONS

Individuals turning 12 and over in 2021 can also receive their vaccination at participating local pharmacies. Please visit covid-19.ontario.ca/vaccine-locations for location and registration information.

CURRENT RESTRICTIONS IN HPEPH

On Friday, July 16 at 12:01 a.m., Ontario moved to Step 3  of the the Roadmap to Reopen. We must all continue to follow the public health measures, advice and restrictions. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people in Step 3, and distancing must be maintained. For more information, visit our COVID-19 page.

POTENTIAL EXPOSURE TO COVID-19?

If you are concerned about potential exposure to a positive case of COVID-19, please be reassured that any contacts of a confirmed case will be contacted directly and monitored by public health.

Low-risk and indirect contacts should self monitor for symptoms for 10 days from the time of potential exposure and seek testing if symptoms develop. Low risk contacts do not need to isolate unless symptoms develop, and can continue to attend school/work/daycare while monitoring for symptoms.