Vancouver Faces Syphilis Outbreak

Vancouver is facing the worst outbreak of syphilis per capita in the developed world, with city health officials fearful of a looming epidemic of the sexually transmitted disease once thought almost wiped out in North America, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

Some 254 new cases have been diagnosed locally this year authorities said early this week — more than the total for North America in two decades, with more expected, said Dr. Michael Rekart of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control.

"There's a lot of unsafe sex going on in Vancouver and the disease has simply taken hold," Rekart told the AFP. "Our outbreak is primarily among sex trade workers now, but we're worried about it jumping to the gay community and beyond and creating a bigger epidemic."

Until 1997, syphilis was almost non-existent on the North American continent, with only one or two cases reported per year in British Columbia. Then suddenly it took off, with the strain affecting most Canadians traced to developing countries in Asia and Central America, Rekart said.

Syphilis can be easily diagnosed with a blood test and most cases can be easily treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated for more than a year, infections can lead to serious brain or heart damage.