By Rosie Townshend-Carter
Oct. 1, 2014
An infection is sweeping across P.E.I. and it isn’t the common cold.
The provinces’ chief medical officer announced Sept. 24 there was an increase in cases of infectious syphilis.
Syphilis can be passed on through kissing, open sores and oral, vaginal or anal sex. It’s not all sexual though. Sharing drug paraphernalia and pregnancy can cause the infection to spread too. Symptoms include a rash, fever, and lack of appetite or swollen lymph nodes. All which can mirror as just a cold. In some suffers, symptoms may never show up.
“The symptoms can go away, but it doesn’t mean you’re free of the bacteria,” said Brett McDearmid, outreach coordinator at AIDS P.E.I.
It’s not just P.E.I. that sees these kinds of outbreaks. Many other provinces and Canada as whole goes through periods of higher sexually transmitted infection rates.
“It spreads because we are a sexual animal.”
In most provinces, you can get anonymously tested at a clinic. P.E.I’s clinic closed a few years ago so a doctor’s office or walk in clinic is the only option.
“It’s a huge thing on P.E.I., we get a lot of calls about where to get tested anonymously.”
Students at Holland College will soon have a chance to talk to a medical expert on campus, said Greg Gairns, student union general manager.
“We are bringing in a nurse practitioner onto campus starting in November.”
It will be a walk-in style service with a practitioner there every other Wednesday. It will be for only Holland College students. The student union office also provides free pregnancy tests upon request, as well as condoms.
“We give out condoms at all events and put bowls of them in the bathrooms,” said Gairns.
Getting tested is important, said McDearmid, so is keeping an open dialogue with your partner. He also suggests partners get tested before hitting the sheets for the first time.
“Really get to know somebody.”
Not getting tested and living with a syphilis infection for years can complicate life down the road, said 33-year veteran nurse Theresa Townshend-Carter.
“Older people who come in confused and disoriented often get tested for syphilis.”
If left untreated, the infection can cause severe problems with the heart, brain and nerves. Those problems can lead to paralysis, blindness and dementia, she said.
“Some older women, their husbands had fooled around on them years ago and gave them syphilis, they didn’t know and now are showing signs of dementia.”
On top of regular testing, Townshend-Carter stresses the importance of condoms.
“You’re sleeping with whoever they’ve slept with, you’re at a big risk.”
If your partner complains about using protection, tell them too bad, she said.
“Follow the famous saying, no glove, no love.”