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International News

Canada: Syphilis Kills Five Alberta Babies

August 11, 2008

Alberta health officials are grappling with an ongoing syphilis outbreak that has led to the deaths of five infants since 2005. "[Congenital syphilis] is totally preventable," said Dr. James Talbot, associate medical health officer for Capital Health. "That's both a source of frustration to us and the feeling that we have to do a better job to be able to protect Albertans."

After reporting no cases of congenital syphilis from 1992 to 2002, Alberta has seen 14 cases since 2005. The outbreak has hit the Edmonton region especially hard. In addition to the five deaths, nine infants with syphilis will require long-term follow-up, said Alberta Health and Wellness.

"There are a range of things that babies who have syphilis at birth can have. They can have bone abnormalities, cardiac abnormalities, and neurological abnormalities," said Talbot.

While syphilis testing is a routine part of prenatal care, the majority of the women who delivered infants with congenital syphilis had not seen a doctor during pregnancy, said Talbot.

Syphilis rates in Alberta were relatively low until around 2005, when cases started to spike. In 2006, the province recorded more than 200 cases of the STD. Nationally, syphilis rates increased nearly ten-fold from 1997 to 2006. Unprotected sex, a burgeoning sex trade, and increased substance abuse are contributing to the rise of syphilis and other STDs, said Talbot.

Capital Health is working to improve STD testing at city clinics. It has also partnered with outreach groups in inner-city neighborhoods and sex workers to promote testing and treatment. In addition, a province-wide campaign about syphilis and other STDs will debut this fall.

Back to other news for August 2008

Adapted from:
Edmonton Journal
8.07.2008; Alexandra Zabjek

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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