2 min

Spreading the word about syphilis

An animated character will raise awareness about the disease

STRUTTIN' HIS STUFF. Syphilis hits bathhouses and bars. Credit: Captial Xtra files

A new cartoon character will be cruising bathhouses, bars and PrideVision airwaves this spring to raise awareness about syphilis.

Syphilis Is Back is an animated public service announcement developed by gay community and public health agencies in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. The tri-city campaign aims to curb rising syphilis infection rates among gay and bisexual men. The spot features a humorous syphilis character that uses naughty words like ass and cock.

“If we were targeting children about syphilis we would talk to them in a little bit different manner about it, but we’re not,” says Maura Volante, executive director of Pink Triangle Services (PTS). “We’re targeting people who go to gay bars and people who go to bathhouses and people who watch late-night porn on PrideVision.”

The video will debut this month in baths and bars. It has already started to air in late night timeslots on PrideVision. You can watch the video on-line at

Despite the video’s humorous approach, rates of syphilis infection are no laughing matter. City of Ottawa numbers show 16 cases of the disease in 2002 and 25 cases last year. The cases are mostly among gay men. In the previous decade there were typically one to two cases per year.

“It’s important to get tested because it is a treatable disease,” cautions Volante. “With the methods that modern medicine has to deal with syphilis, there is no reason for it to increase in the population.”

PTS president Bruce Bursey explains that the idea for the video – first seen at the 2003 Making Scenes Film Festival – had its origins in Ottawa.

“It was an idea that emerged from discussion within the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative and our sense was that the messaging that’s been used in the past – ‘use condoms’ or ‘practice safe sex’ – was tired,” says Bursey.

“It reaches a point where you need to come up with a new message to reinvigorate people’s awareness for practicing safe sex,” he says.

Their idea of a light, humorous video that could be played in bathhouses caught the attention of public health units in Montreal and Toronto. Created by Boomstone Entertainment, the video was produced with support from Health Canada, the cities of Ottawa and Montreal, as well as AIDS agencies such as the AIDS committees of Toronto and Ottawa and Montreal’s Action Séro Zéro.

The project has been in the works for some time, with early versions of the video being focus-tested as long ago as this time last year.

“To be honest the amount of work it takes to produce and develop and then to coordinate it between three cities was more than we had anticipated,” says Bursey. “Rather than rush to get a product that we weren’t 100 percent happy with we took the decision to take our time.”


View the video at

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For information on getting tested, call the Healthy Sexuality Information Line at 563-2437.