NWT Chief Public Health Officer declares syphilis outbreak

Stanton Territorial Hospital. (John McFadden/CKLB photo)

The Chief Public Health Officer has declared a syphilis outbreak for the Northwest Territories.

In a news release issued Thursday morning, health officials say the NWT has seen a dramatic increase in syphilis rates with 28 reported cases since January 1, 2019.

The declaration follows a less serious Public Health Advisory on syphilis issued back in April.  

The majority of these cases, 70% of them, have been in Yellowknife.

One of the cases included a newborn that was diagnosed with congenital syphilis, according to officials

They add that this is the first case of congenital syphilis in NWT since 2009.

Congenital syphilis occurs when a mother passes the syphilis infection on to her baby during pregnancy.

It can cause very serious health issues including stillbirth, neonatal death, or severe chronic health conditions.

In response to the increased rates and health burden of syphilis the health officer has directed a proactive public health response focusing initially in Yellowknife that includes:

  • Rapid access to information and confidential advice through a dedicated sexually transmitted infections (STI) phone that allows for texting;
  • Rapid access to STI testing in Yellowknife;
  • Increasing access to syphilis blood testing by training public health and primary care nurses to perform phlebotomy;
  • Enhanced STI testing for pregnant women that is timed with other routine tests;
  • Expanded walk-in clinic hours to improve access;
  • Cross-training of more frontline staff to assist with patient assessments and follow-up; and
  • Targeted social marketing and ads, including information in local bars and youth centres, as well as general ads for community residents.

For more information on STIs including statistics on syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia visit:

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.