Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest health authority is reminding the public of the importance of safe sex practices after reporting an increase in syphilis cases and the first confirmed cases of the disease being transferred between mothers and their unborn infants.

In an advisory Friday morning, Eastern Health said syphilis cases remained high in the province in 2018 with a total of 33 infectious syphilis cases among men and women aged 15 to 68 years old.

The health authority also said they saw the first cases of confirmed and suspected congenital syphilis that year.

Congenital syphilis occurs when a pregnant woman passes the disease to the fetus.

According to Eastern Health, the risk of transmission from an untreated mother to a fetus is 70 to 100 per cent if the infection is recent. If the infection occurred more than six months ago, the risk of transmission drops to 40 per cent.

“When passed to a baby, syphilis can result in miscarriage, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and developmental concerns,” the notice read.

These outcomes can be prevented with early and regular prenatal care, Eastern Health said.

“Syphilis during pregnancy is easily cured with the right antibiotics,” the health authority said.

Eastern Health described syphilis as a bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is passed through unprotected sex, including oral sex.

The disease has the potential to cause serious and permanent damage to the body if it’s left untreated.

While some people may not experience any symptoms, common symptoms include:

  • An open sore at the point of infection
  • Flu-like illness
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Rash on the chest, back, palms of hands, and bottoms of feet

The health authority said symptoms may first appear in an individual 10 to 90 days after infection, although the average period is 21 days.

Eastern Health advised anyone who has had unprotected sex to see a healthcare provider to get tested for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections.