New Rapid Tests Introduced to Combat Syphilis Outbreak

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Northwest Territories health care practitioners are being trained to use new rapid tests for syphilis to curb a worsening outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease.

Syphilis rates in the territory increased 253 percent between Jan. 1, 2019, to April 1, 2022. During that time 222 cases were detected, 47 in the first three months of this year. Yellowknife continues to report the most cases, but the disease is spreading across the NWT, with cases having been reported in nearly every region of the territory.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Ameeta Singh recently conducted a 19-month clinical trial of Syphilis/HIV dual point-of-care tests in Alberta. The results showed more than 90 percent accuracy. The rapid tests require only a simple finger-prick blood sample and show results within 15 minutes, instead of requiring a physician to order bloodwork to be completed in a lab.

Since the release of these trial results, the Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Kami Kandola, has received Health Canada special access approval to use the new tests, which are still awaiting formal federal approval to allow non-restricted access in Canada.

Health care providers started two days of training in the new procedures with Dr. Singh on Monday in Yellowknife.

Pregnant people are also advised to be tested multiple times during their pregnancy, as syphilis can be passed to the baby. There have been two such cases of congenital syphilis detected in the NWT.

Quote(s)

“Getting tested is an important step to stopping this syphilis outbreak. We are pleased to offer this new point-of-care test and encourage everyone to get tested and practice safe sex. A point of care test allows for quick results and immediate treatment, and quick contact tracing and which will help slow down the spread of syphilis in the NWT.

  • Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services

“We want everyone who is sexually active in the NWT to take preventative measures such as properly wearing a condom and to get tested often because when syphilis is caught and treated early, it can prevent further transmission.”

  • Dr. Kami Kandola, Chief Public Health Officer

Quick facts

  • Syphilis is spread through unprotected oral, genital or anal sex with an infected person.
  • Syphilis can first appear as painless, open sores or ulcers usually in the genital area, but not everyone infected will have symptoms. Left untreated, it can lead to death.
  • Congenital syphilis can result in complications at birth and without treatment can cause damage to bones, teeth, eyes, ears and brain of the child.
  • If you are sexually active, and/or pregnant, it is strongly recommended you 
  • Use condom protection
  • Limit and know your sexual partners
  • Get tested for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections every time you have a new partner. If you are not in a monogamous relationship, you should get tested more often.

Related links

For media requests, please contact:

Jeremy Bird

Manager, Communications

Department of Health and Social Service

Government of the Northwest Territories

jeremy_bird@gov.nt.ca

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