Rapid tests could help curb syphilis in Canada

Supervised by Dr. Ameeta Singh, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, the clinical trial lasted 19 months. It was carried out on a sample of 1,500 participants, in two emergency services in Edmonton, in a detention center and within a First Nation in the north of the province.

The clinical trial found that a third of those tested tested positive for sexually transmitted infections, including syphilis. In addition to allowing results to be obtained in less than 15 minutes, the test has above all shown, according to Ameeta Singh, an accuracy of more than 90%.

Preliminary laboratory-confirmed clinical trial results showed that around 500 people tested positive for syphilis, of which 240 were new infections.

We predicted that maybe 10% of our participants would test positive. The results obtained are incredible. They tell us that we had [bien ciblé les endroits] that are more likely to harbor people at risk of syphilissays Dr. Singh.

Resurgence of cases in Canada and the Prairies

The country has faced a resurgence of syphilis cases for 10 years (New window), according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Provincially, Alberta recorded 2,500 new infections in 2020 alone, compared to 160 cases reported in 2014. In other words, the number of cases in the province has increased more than 15 times. within eight years.

Saskatchewan is also showing a sharply increasing positivity rate. According to Stuart Skinner, chief executive of the Wellness Wheel Medical Outreach Clinic in Regina, the rate there was 78.4 per 100,000 people in 2020. That’s about nine times higher than in 2016.

Health Canada has meanwhile approved a second clinical trial of rapid tests and given its approval for their use in Saskatchewan.

Ameeta Singh expects that to change with promising testing in Alberta. I think this is going to be a game changer for Canadashe hopes.

A rapid dual HIV and syphilis test.

Rapid tests (here a double HIV and syphilis test) can help people declared positive, especially pregnant women, to quickly access treatment.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Julia Wong

Waiting for the green light from Health Canada

The rapid tests must still be approved by Health Canada before being distributed. If given a green light, they would be manufactured on a large scale by two companies, MedMira and Biolytical Laboratories.

A professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and a strong research advocate for the accessibility of dual rapid blood tests HIV and syphilis, Rosanna Peeling urges Canada to act quickly to provide widespread access to these rapid tests.

Especially, she says, they can help people who test positive to access treatment immediately.

Dr. Noel Ives, who coordinated the study, points out that participants who tested positive after taking a rapid test were offered treatment on the spot, and that 84% accepted it.

Syphilis, an infection that can be fatal

People infected with syphilis can develop serious brain, heart and nerve complications, says the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Pregnant women who test positive and are not treated can transmit the infection to their fetus. In fact, in Alberta, 183 babies have been born with congenital syphilis since 2016, and 39 of them have died from it, according to provincial government figures.

If women are not tested before and during pregnancy, we cannot intervene with our treatmentswarns Ameeta Singh.

Turning Point, an organization in Red Deer, Alberta, has stepped up its public awareness campaigns about the seriousness of syphilis, an infection that Red Deer nurse Reed Charbonneau says can have an impact on [les]organs and even lead to death.

With information from Julia Wong


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