BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 14 2017 – Health authorities here are reporting an outbreak of syphilis on the island.
Senior Medical Officer with responsibility for HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Dr Anton Best said the outbreak was first detected in 2013 and the Ministry of Health immediately put systems in place to improve syphilis surveillance in Barbados.
A just-completed report analyzed trends in new cases over a four-year period between 2011 and 2014.
According to the Senior Medical Officer, the study revealed a significant increase in the number of syphilis cases between 2011 and 2013. Subsequently, the outbreak stabilized in 2014 and 2015, he added.
“The majority of cases occurred in men (72 per cent). Nearly three-quarters of cases occurred in persons between the ages of 15 and 49 years, with the average age of a syphilis case being 34 years,” Dr. Best explained.
The study investigators, concerned about the potential for syphilis to be transmitted to babies, also looked at syphilis testing trends among pregnant women.
The Senior Medical Officer said they found that very high proportions of pregnant women, more than 95 per cent, were screened for syphilis during pregnancy. The report stated that no increase in syphilis cases in pregnant women was detected during the four-year period under review. There was, however, one case of congenital syphilis in 2014.
“The Ministry of Health first raised the alarm in July 2013 and commenced a health education campaign to increase awareness about STIs so more people would be tested for them and protect themselves from acquiring them,” the Senior Medical Officer said.
The health official explained that syphilis was a sexually transmitted infection that could cause serious health problems if it was not treated.
“It is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), and there are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. Syphilis can be spread by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby,” he pointed out.
Dr. Best stressed that the only way to completely avoid STIs was to abstain from vaginal, anal or oral sex. Those who were sexually active, he said, could reduce their chances of getting syphilis by being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has tested negative for syphilis; and by using latex condoms correctly every time they have sex. Condoms, he noted, prevented transmission of syphilis by preventing contact with a sore.
The health official stated that his Ministry’s HIV and STI Programme would continue to conduct ongoing surveillance for syphilis and other STIs in Barbados. He also reassured that the Ministry would also continue to implement strategies, including more aggressive health promotion and awareness, to prevent and control the spread of STIs and HIV.
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