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The rate of babies born with syphilis is increasing in Manitoba

The number of babies born with congenital syphilis in Canada is rising at a faster rate than recorded in the United States or Europe, with the increase concentrated in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

According to Health Canada, the country has seen a 13-fold increase in the number of babies born with syphilis over a five-year span. In 2021, the rate of babies born with syphilis reached 26 per 100,000 live births, which is up from two per 100,000 in 2017.

The data shows this rise is concentrated in the prairie provinces, with Manitoba recording the highest rate at 371 cases per 100,000 live births in 2021. Public health experts attribute the rise of congenital syphilis to methamphetamine use.

Dr. Santina Lee, medical officer of health and pediatric infectious diseases specialist, said up until 2015, there had not been a case in the province for more than 30 years.

“In 2021, there was a total of 54 cases that includes babies who fit the case definition for both confirmed and probable congenital syphilis,” she said.

Lee said the highest risk factor for congenital syphilis is having the infection during pregnancy and not treating it.

“If you’ve had the infection during pregnancy and treated it, it doesn’t mean it’s zero risk for your baby getting the infection, but it’s a much lower risk,” she said in an interview on CTV Morning Live on Wednesday.

“It’s very important to get diagnosed and treated as early as possible during the pregnancy.”

Lee said that most babies born with congenital syphilis don’t have any symptoms, but some can be sick at birth. She added the infection can affect any part of the baby’s body and can cause brain infections, bone malformations, and developmental problems, including hearing issues.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria. Often in the early stages people are unaware they have the infection as the symptoms, which include a small sore, can be quite mild. Congenital syphilis occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection onto her baby during pregnancy.

Syphilis is easily treatable with penicillin; however, an individual can be re-infected.

- With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagace and Reuters Top Stories

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