TORONTO (CP) -- A few years ago, health authorities thought syphilis would soon be eradicated in Canada. Instead the sexually transmitted disease is on the rise. That disturbing news is made more so by the fact that an increase in syphilis is generally viewed to presage a rise in HIV infection rates as well. The national syphilis infection rate had held at 0.4 to 0.6 cases per 100,000 people from 1994 onward. However, based on the first nine months' data for 2001, the rate for 2001 is expected to be 0.9 cases per 100,000 last year, Health Canada reported this week. The infection rate is increasing among both men and women, although more so in men. "We are at a crossroads in the control of syphilis in Canada," the department said in a release. "Enhanced efforts for case finding and management as well as rapid outbreak response can once again put us on the track for elimination. Otherwise, the result may be a resurgence of this infection as well as other sexually transmitted infections, including HIV." One of the reasons is that the genital ulcers that occur in the first stages of syphilis have been estimated to increase the potential for HIV transmission three-to-five fold. Evidence has shown that the early detection and treatment of sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis can drive down rates of new HIV infections. While the national syphilis infection rate remains low, several hot spots are fuelling the increase: among sex-trade workers in downtown Vancouver; in the Yukon among heterosexuals; and in Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal among gay men. Of the three bacterial sexually transmitted infections -- chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis -- the latter is the least commonly reported. A scourge of earlier times, syphilis is believed to have a link to Christopher Columbus's historic journey. In addition to bringing back to Europe word of a New World, his crew is believed to have introduced syphilis to the old one.