Northwest Territories health care practitioners are being trained to use new rapid tests for syphilis to curb a worsening outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease.
Dr. Kami Kandola, the Chief Public Health Officer, recently held a press gathering to talk about the new rapid-test kits, and also shared some background information on how the NWT got to this point.
“In August 2019, I declared a territory wide syphilis outbreak, except at that time, the rates of syphilis had been the highest they’d ever been, and it included our first case of congenital syphilis since 2009. Today, syphilis rates have far exceeded those in 2019. In the past four years, from 2018 to 2021, rates of infectious syphilis in the Northwest Territories among women have increased to over 1,100 percent, while male rates have increased by 484 percent.”
Yellowknife continues to report the most cases, but the disease is spreading across the NWT, with cases having been reported in nearly every region of the territory.
The new rapid tests work much faster than previous testing methods, with results available in just fifteen minutes, rather than several days or even longer. All it requires is a single drop of blood pricked from the finger. The blood is placed in a special cartridge, and exposed to three different solutions. The first solution prevents the blood from solidifying or clotting, allowing it to be properly processed. The second and third solutions reveal whether or not the subject has contracted syphilis. If a person has contracted syphilis in the past but is no longer infected, the test is less effective, as it cannot differentiate between new and old syphilis in the bloodstream.
Since the release of these trial results, Dr. Kandola has received Health Canada special access approval to use the new tests, which are still awaiting formal federal approval to allow non-restricted access in Canada. Beside Dr. Kandola was Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ameeta Singh, who for the last 19 months, has been running tests of Syphilis/HIV dual point-of-care tests in Alberta.
“Their work shows that the point-of-care tests that they trialed were highly effective in the diagnosis of syphilis and HIV. So today, we are so excited and grate full to have Dr. Ameeta Singh be here with us for the past two days, where they were able to provide front line healthcare providers hands on training to use the point-of-care tests, as well as an overview of syphilis case and contact management.”
Pregnant people are also advised to be tested multiple times during their pregnancy, as syphilis can be passed to the baby. There have been two such cases of congenital syphilis detected in the NWT. At this time, there are approximately 1,100 point-of-care tests ready to use in the NWT.