Public health nurses in Winnipeg are sounding the alarm over skyrocketing rates of syphilis infections, saying they are fighting a losing battle.
In a letter Thursday to Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen, the nurses said there is insufficient staff to properly trace those who may be infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
Syphilis rates are especially high, and staffing is not keeping up with rising demand for service, they wrote.
"Not since the 1950s have we seen babies being infected via congenital transmission and now the healthy sexuality and harm reduction (HSHR) team is managing these cases regularly," the nurses wrote. "The appearance of congenital infections is a sign of the severity of the outbreak and ineffective outbreak management."
Friesen acknowledged the province is "facing challenges" in rising infection rates, although he said Manitoba is not alone in that regard. The same trends are being seen across Canada and parts of the U.S. Midwest, he said.
He said part of the problem is due to the rise in illicit drug use through injection.
"We're seeing infection rates increasing that we haven't seen before," Friesen told reporters Thursday. "But remember people are injecting methamphetamines into their veins and sharing needles. And this should be a significant cause for concern for public health right across North America."
Friesen said Manitoba public health officials are responding to the situation and more funding will be provided to those on the front lines.
"I have accepted the advice of the acting chief public health officer (Dr. Michael Isaac) to increase resources at this time," the minister said, without offering a lot of specifics.
"There's a lot of creativity and innovation being used to be able to use resources in new ways to make contact with some difficult-to-reach sub-populations," he said. "I believe that work, which is ongoing, will have an effect."
Friesen said he is aware, in many cases, expectant mothers are not receiving pre-natal care: "That is a big, big challenge."
The provincial NDP released a copy of the nurses' letter to the media Thursday, and raised the issue in the legislature. The Opposition removed the names of the nurses who signed it.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said it is concerning nurses don't have enough time to trace all potentially infected persons in a timely way. He said a lack of government funding is to blame.
"These nurses are warning that the outbreak is being made worse by the staffing challenges that they're facing," Kinew said.
In their letter, the nurses said with the "drastic" increase in sexually transmitted blood-borne infection rates, they cannot meet accepted standards of care and clinical practice guidelines.
"There have been insufficient resources and support in response to these ongoing issues resulting in a public health crisis and an unsafe work environment," said the letter, addressed to Friesen and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
"We implore you to provide our team with the necessary resources, so we can work on our preventative, collaborative and upstream public health approaches in order to effectively manage this current outbreak."
Staffing numbers for the HSHR team have not increased since 2013, the nurses said.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Updated on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 7:17 PM CDT: Adds photo