Alberta, Canada, is seeing rates of syphilis not experienced in the region since the 1940s—before antibiotics for the bacterial infection were developed. "Despite all of our advances, we are seeing a horrifying rate," an infectious disease specialist tells the CBC. In the year 2000, just 17 cases were reported in the Canadian province; last year, there were 2,509. Syphilis, which is typically contracted via sexual contact, starts with a small, painless sore and often moves on to a rash and other symptoms, per the Mayo Clinic, but it can then go dormant for years. If not treated, however, it can attack major organs and kill patients.
"We’re struggling to keep up with finding people who have been infected, treating them, trying to find their partners, treating those partners," the expert tells the Regina Leader-Post. News articles can easily be found detailing recent syphilis outbreaks in places including Canada's Northwest Territories, Oklahoma, and across the state of Washington. The Alberta expert says the COVID-19 pandemic has made the already difficult job of containing STI outbreaks even more difficult, as healthcare workers are stretched thin and cases are likely to go undetected. Increased use of mobile dating apps and drugs, especially meth, have also possibly contributed. Congenital syphilis, in which a baby is born with the infection because its mother was infected, are also on the rise in Alberta. Since 2015, about 30 infants have died. (Read more syphilis stories.)