VANCOUVER, November 21, 2013 ( – In response to syphilis rates among Vancouver's homosexual/bisexual men having reached epidemic proportions, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has launch a new campaign aimed at stopping the spread of the highly contagious disease by distributing more condoms.

In what the Canadian Press describes as a “cheeky internet and poster campaign,” Vancouver Coastal Health's “Health Initiative for Men” focuses on “What's trending in Vancouver?”

The VCH campaign answers its own question, “how do I protect myself?” by responding, the “regular use of condoms.”


In June, Vancouver Coastal Health and the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) issued a warning that syphilis infections in homosexual and bisexual men have soared to their highest levels in more than 30 years in the Vancouver area.

According to the warning, 2012 saw 371 new cases of syphilis reported in British Columbia. Eighty percent of those cases were diagnosed in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, which stretches from Metro Vancouver northward along the coast to Bella Coola, and were confined almost entirely to the male homosexual community.

According to VCH's syphilis infection records, the disease was almost non-existent in the early 1990s, with only three infections, mostly associated with female prostitutes, reported in 1993. By 1997 the number of cases rose to 22, and then exploded as the disease shifted to the male homosexual community in the early 2000s.

“We’re encouraging men who have sex with men to become more aware about syphilis and to incorporate regular testing into their health care routine,” advised Dr. Réka Gustafson, a medical health officer with VCH.

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Dr. Gustafson warned that, left untreated, syphilis can result in permanent blindness, hearing loss, deep bone pain, heart disorders, nervous system problems, neurological problems, and death. These symptoms, he said, can occur anywhere in the early to late stages of infection.

Common symptoms of syphilis include sores resembling bug bites, rashes on the palms and soles, fever, swollen lymph glands, and weight loss.

The BCCDC health advisory noted that syphilis also increases the risk of HIV infection.

In the VCH region, the report said 60 percent of syphilis cases are also HIV positive.

“Syphilis spreads easily through any form of sexual contact,” said Dr. Rich Lester, medical head of the BCCDC’s Sexually Transmitted Infections/HIV division.

He cautioned that the symptoms of syphilis can be mistaken for other diseases, and that a belief in the practice of “safe sex” through the regular use of condoms can be fatal.

“On top of that, syphilis may have no symptoms in the early stages and whatever symptoms do appear later on are often mistaken for other diseases,” Dr. Lester said.


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