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Candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach and... syphilis?

Creative new campaign aims to raise awareness about the disease that's made an unwanted comeback in Alberta.

(Photo: picturegarden/Getty)

While largely associated with the sexual exploits of old-timey sailors, Impressionist painters and Al Capone, apparently syphilis has been making quite the comeback in Alberta.

If you’re wandering around with potentially infectious lesions on your unmentionables that may then attack the central nervous system, leading to dementia and death, you might find it hard to get a date. To that end, Alberta Health and Wellness and Health Services have launched a dating site for singles with syphilis.

OK not really, but by Edmonton agency Calder Bateman has all the trappings of any web dating site (such as, say, this one) but is actually there to raise awareness about the disease, prevention and treatment. Users can checkout member profiles, which are mostly men and women in their late teens and 20s, featuring pictures and videos. It might also be the most creative use of syphilis since “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.”

“Back in the late 90s we were down to no cases at all for a few years, but by 2009 we reached a peak of 279 new cases, including seven babies born with congenital syphilis,” said Dr. Andre Corriveau, chief medical officer of Alberta Health and Wellness. “Our market research showed that many people in Alberta were still unaware that we were dealing with an outbreak and had very little information on syphilis specifically.”

Corriveau said the campaign is really aimed at preventing all sexually transmitted infections but they picked syphilis because “it’s the most dramatic in terms of its increase and the novelty of it.”

Back in the 80s and 90s, AIDS prevention often equated sex with naked doubles Russian Roulette, leading many to take drastic precautions. But Corriveau said that “in the last decade there’s been a gradual weakening of the impact” from that earlier marketing. “Overall the rates were worse in the 70s, but as public health officials we’re just trying to stem that trend as quickly as we can.”