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Health

After report, NWT issues new syphilis warning


The territorial government issued an advisory warning of a “significant increase” in syphilis diagnoses, a week after Cabin Radio assessed how much had changed in the two years since an outbreak was declared.

The NWT has been battling a syphilis outbreak since August 2019. Tuesday’s public health advisory, one of the first issued on the subject since the outbreak began, stated rates now “dramatically exceed” those seen two years ago.

Health officials now say that since the beginning of 2021, 37 cases have been reported in the NWT. Of those, 78 percent were recorded in Yellowknife.

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When Cabin Radio interviewed deputy chief public health officer Dr Andy Delli Pizzi in July, he said 33 people had been diagnosed with syphilis between January and June, suggesting four cases were identified in July.

Dr Delli Pizzi said “complex factors” were sustaining the outbreak, ranging from the increasing prevalence of online hookup apps to the territory’s ongoing housing crisis.

In Yellowknife, a dedicated number – (867) 446-5113 – is available to access confidential advice by call or text. The GNWT promised rapid access to testing.

Tuesday’s public health advisory stated there have been two cases since 2019 in which syphilis was passed to a developing baby during pregnancy, creating a condition known as congenital syphilis. 

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“Congenital syphilis can cause very serious health issues including stillbirth, neonatal death, or severe chronic health conditions,” the advisory stated.

Last month, the NWT government told Cabin Radio it had changed its testing procedures and introduced harm reduction kits in a bid to tackle the outbreak.

“A lot of our resources were impacted by the pandemic, but we’re trying to regroup and make sure that we have available screening and testing and treatment options in a variety of different settings,” said Lorie-Anne Danielson, acting chief operating officer for the Yellowknife region of the NWT’s health authority, at the time.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Social Services said it was “re-initiating” some other responses to the outbreak “to increase awareness and provide easier access.”

Those include an expansion of walk-in clinic hours, more training for staff, and increasing syphilis awareness marketing on social media and in bars and youth centres.

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