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Make Syphistory: A new provincial syphilis awareness campaign

This week, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) officially launched the new syphilis awareness campaign, Make Syphistory.

Background

Between 2010 and 2015, the rate of infectious syphilis in BC quadrupled. In 2015, there were 762 cases of infectious syphilis reported, almost 40% higher than in 2014. This is the highest number of cases seen in over 25 years. Although the greatest increase is in the Vancouver region, a general increase has been observed across the province.

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) continue to be the group most affected by syphilis. Since 2012, about 85% of all infectious syphilis cases are among gbMSM and over half of these individuals are co-infected with HIV.

Rationale

Over the past year, BCCDC has led a provincial syphilis response in partnership with key stakeholders, producing and updating a provincial Syphilis Action Plan. One goal of this Action Plan is the development of a social marketing strategy to increase awareness and health literacy of syphilis among gbMSM around BC, as this group is at highest risk for syphilis infection and re-infection.

Make Syphistory

Featuring historical figures known or rumored to have had syphilis and portrayed as cartoon penises, the Syphistory campaign uses humor and sexual innuendo to engage gbMSM, but also to deliver serious health messages.

The campaign promotes eight key health messages:

  • You can get syphilis again, even if you’ve had syphilis before.
  • It can take up to 3 months before a syphilis test is positive.
  • If you have been exposed to syphilis in the last 3 months, you should be treated for syphilis.
  • Syphilis can be transmitted through any type of sex, including oral sex.
  • Two-thirds of people who have syphilis have no symptoms. The only way to know is to get tested.
  • Syphilis can cause visual problems or blindness, even in the early stages.
  • Syphilis is curable with antibiotics.
  • Syphilis increases the risk of HIV transmission.

The campaign targets gbMSM across the province, primarily through promotion in public health clinics, hook-up and dating websites, and venues frequented by gbMSM. The campaign includes print and digital advertising, complemented by the Syphistory.ca campaign page, hosted off the SmartSexResource website.

Syphistory was developed with input from the regional health authorities and key community-based organizations, including Health Initiative for Men, Positive Living BC, and YouthCO. 

Evaluation of the campaign will focus on health literacy as the primary outcome, and syphilis testing volumes and positivity rates as secondary outcomes. BCCDC anticipates that Syphistory will raise awareness of syphilis, leading to increased testing and diagnoses of syphilis.

Categories: Events and announcements

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