Social media sites play role in rising syphilis rate in Saskatoon: doctor

Saskatoon public health officials are worried about the increasing number of syphilis cases in Saskatoon.

Recently, an outbreak of the sexually transmitted infection in the city was declared, prompting the University of Saskatchewan to email its students advising regular testing for the disease.

Dr. Johnmark Opondo, Saskatoon’s deputy medical health officer, said social media sites often used by people to arrange sexual encounters are factors.

“It is really not a speculation. It is an observation,” Opondo said.

Opondo said health officials can substantiate the link because they know that people in Saskatoon who have confirmed cases of syphilis were using certain social media sites to meet sex partners.

“The syphilis came from somewhere, so we really try to track down who else may have been exposed, who else might be infected that we don’t know about so that we can ensure that that person gets treatment as well,” Opondo explained.

Opondo said Saskatoon has seen a significant increase in the first three months of 2014 alone, with nine confirmed cases of syphilis, compared to three in all of 2013.

The U of S is encouraging students to get tested  through a urine sample at Student Health Services.

The Saskatoon Health Region said syphilis is spread by contact with sores, rashes or body fluids during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Officials said it can be dangerous if not caught in the early stages. Left untreated, it can cause damage to many body systems and can even be deadly.

Opondo also cautioned that having syphilis can make a person more likely to be infected with other sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.  Pregnant women with syphilis can experience complications including miscarriage, serious birth defects, as well as the death of the newborn.

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