Barbados health authorities raise concerns about syphillis


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados— Barbados health authorities are urging residents to educate themselves more about sexually transmitted infections (STI) as the island deals with an outbreak of syphilis.

“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,” said Senior Medical Officer with responsibility for HIV and STIs, Dr Anton Best, who on Monday, released the results of a detailed analysis of an outbreak of syphilis.

He said that the outbreak was first detected in 2013 and the ministry immediately put systems in place to improve syphilis surveillance in Barbados.

The just-completed report analysed 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. He said the outbreak stabilised in 2014 and 2015.

“The majority of cases occurred in men (72 per cent). Nearly three-quarters of cases occurred in individuals between the ages of 15 and 49 years, with the average age of a syphilis case being 34 years.”

The study also examined the potential for syphilis being transmitted to babies and looked at syphilis testing trends among pregnant women.

Dr Best said the study 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 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 said.

Dr Best stressed that the only way to completely avoid STIs was to abstain from vaginal, anal or oral sex and that people who were sexually active 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,

He also advocated the proper use of latex condoms during sex.

Dr Best said that the 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.