11/18/2013 02:35 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Vancouver Syphilis Rate In Gay, Bisexual Communities Prompts Action
VANCOUVER - The syphilis rate in Metro Vancouver has reached a 30-year high, prompting a new campaign aimed at eliminating the disease.

Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson said Monday that syphilis rates are at epidemic proportions, especially in the Lower Mainland's gay and bisexual communities.

In 2012, there were 371 cases reported in B.C., most of those with the disease were gay and bisexual men.

The sexually transmitted disease is highly contagious.

If left untreated, syphilis can lead to blindness, hearing loss, neurological problems and in severe cases can be fatal.

Vancouver Coastal Health launched the campaign to urge people in gay and bisexual communities to get tested regularly and practise safe sex.

The cheeky Internet and poster campaign focuses on Vancouver trends such as French bulldogs, dating apps and syphilis rates at a 30-year high.

Several community agencies work with gay and bisexual men, including Health Initiative for Men, or HIM, and Positive Living B.C.

Jody Jollimore, program manager for Health Initiative for Men, said the campaign educates men in a way that reflects their lives.

"We know that gay and bisexual men care about their sexual health and when given access to appropriate information, (they) make healthier choices," Jollimore said in a news release.

Glen Doupe, an outreach team leader for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said people need to get tested regularly because they have may the disease and not know it.

"Syphilis spreads easily through any form of sexual contact so people also need to be more knowledgeable about safe sex practices."

B.C. isn't the only province to see a spike in the number of syphilis cases.

Statistics show that in 2010 there were more than 1,750 cases in Canada, up from the 177 in 1993.

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