Syphilis cases on the rise across the province, warns B.C. Centre for Disease Control

In 2022, the province reported 1,965 syphilis cases, compared to 1,430 cases in 2021. (Getty Images - image credit)
In 2022, the province reported 1,965 syphilis cases, compared to 1,430 cases in 2021. (Getty Images - image credit)

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is warning of a rise in syphilis cases in the province.

According to the latest BCCDC data, there has been a 27 per cent increase in syphilis cases from 2021 to 2022.

In 2022, the province reported 1,965 syphilis cases, compared to 1,430 cases in 2021.

Troy Grennan, physician lead for the BCCDC's sexual health programs, says there has been an upward trend in the transmission of the sexually transmitted infection.

Infectious syphilis cases have been increasing since 2010. However, the number of infectious syphilis cases have increased more dramatically in the past two years, doubling from about 1,000 cases in 2019 and 2020 each to nearly 2,000 cases in 2022.

"It's been going pretty steadily up," Grennan said.

He says the only year in the last decade where they didn't see an increase was 2020, which saw a few months where testing and cases dropped significantly.

"When COVID first reared its head and folks were really staying at home and not doing very much we saw dramatic decreases in testing," he said.

More cases seen in women, babies during pregnancy

Historically, men who have sex with other men tend to be disproportionately affected by syphilis. But recent numbers show a shift, Grennan says.

"We're seeing increasing numbers in women and in men who have sex with women," he said.

He says he can't speculate on the reasons for the rising numbers, but says it could possibly be attributed to more people getting tested for syphilis.

A handful of cases have been seen in in women of childbearing age, he adds.

He says B.C. and other parts of Canada have also seen an increase in the number of cases of congenital syphilis, which is when a baby is infected during pregnancy.

If it's not diagnosed and or treated early, it can have devastating consequences, including fetal loss or still birth or other serious health problems, Grennan said.

"So that's why it's important to particularly in pregnancy to to do your regular prenatal follow-ups," he said.


Mary Saugstad, a clinic resource nurse with Options for Sexual Health, say its clinics are running at overcapacity.

Syphilis is one of the STIs, she says, they've been treating more frequently.

"Ten, 20 years ago we didn't see those as much and we're finding that we are treating syphilis more," Saugstad said.

If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems including damage to essential organs as well as dementia, paralysis, blindness and eventually death.

Saugstad says Options clinics offer screening for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis.

"We recommend getting screened with or without symptoms," she said. "That's definitely our number-one strategy to prevent the spread of any STI."