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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
CANADA: Infected Babies Dying as Syphilis Rate Soars
Jodie Sinnema
March 4, 2010
Edmonton Journal (03.02.10) - Thursday, March 04, 2010

Alberta had a record 263 confirmed syphilis cases in 2009, a 7 percent increase over the previous year, and more cases could be added to the tally as health officials' investigations continue. Last year, six babies were born with congenital syphilis and three died. Since 2005, eight of 22 infected babies have died.

Alberta's syphilis cases have grown steadily through recent years, from 218 in 2006, 250 in 2007 to 245 in 2008. However, a new awareness and prevention campaign set to launch in March was delayed by provincial efforts to fight H1N1 influenza, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, Alberta's top public health officer.

An administrative transitioning of STD oversight - from Alberta Health and Wellness to Alberta Health Services - has not helped local leadership on the issue, said Dr. Stan Houston, an infectious-disease physician and University of Alberta professor. In 2008, four public health doctors, including an STD consultant, left the province for unstated reasons, he said.

Alberta's syphilis rate is eight cases per 100,000 population, second only to the Northwest Territories' 161.7 cases per 100,000 rate and double the national rate of 4.2 cases per 100,000. Aboriginal women are among those most at risk, Corriveau said.

"That is a spectacular epidemic, and controlling syphilis is not necessarily easy, but neither is it a whole new disease," said Houston. "We've been controlling syphilis since the early 1990s, and in fact, controlling it very well until recently." "It still comes back to a policy issue," he added. "Considering the scale of the problem, we're massively under- responding." "It's just an indictment of our response to syphilis that we're having children die from this disease," he said.

The province is now testing women three times during pregnancy.