Newborn syphilis cases in U.S. reach highest level in 20 years

Newborn syphilis cases in U.S. reach highest level in 20 years

A new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report is drawing attention to a more than doubling of the number of cases of congenital syphilis nationwide, 918 cases in 2017 compared to 362 in 2013. The greatest number of cases were in the South and West. It can be cured with the right round of antibiotics.

The CDC says that 1 in 3 women who had a baby with syphilis in 2016 was tested during pregnancy, but either got syphilis after that test or wasn't treated in time to cure the infection in the unborn baby.

For babies who survive, it can lead to an assortment of physical and mental health problems.

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, echoed that urgency.

"We have all hands on deck", Rivera said.

It can kill babies, however.

Syphilis, which is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, is a sexually transmitted disease, but it can also pass from mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery.

The CDC recommends all pregnant women be tested for syphilis the first time they see a doctor about their pregnancy. But the tests were performed too late in their pregnancies to prevent the infection of the fetuses, or the women became infected after being tested. Cases were reported in 37 states - primarily Western and Southern states. Louisiana ranked first with 93.4 cases for every 100,000 births.

Rates of congenital syphilis higher among babies born to Black and Latina mothers, the CDC said. "Every case of syphilis should be preventable".

Young people are hit especially hard and account for almost half of all new STD cases, so naturally this affects women of childbearing age, Wyand explained.

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According to the new data, Louisiana had the highest rate of births affected by syphilis: 93 cases for every 100,000 births, the CDC team found. MS had the lowest rate, with 2.6 cases per 100,000 births. One trend they discovered was moms who initially tested negative for the infection or were treated in their first trimesters contracted syphilis during later stages of pregnancy. Without early and regular prenatal care, a pregnant woman may not know that she has syphilis and may unknowingly put her baby is at risk. The CDC reported that nationwide, 77 were stillborn or died previous year.

Clinicians "need to be aware that syphilis is back", Kidd said.

"Education is really important", Gruber said.

"In 2017, 64 babies infected with syphilis were stillborn, ". and we believe that might be an underestimate", Bolan said.

Last month, the CDC released preliminary data showing that STD rates broke records in 2017 for the fourth year in a row. Syphilis cases, in particular, almost doubled in 2017, the CDC says.

Cuts in funding to public health programs are to blame, at least in part, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials said.

Bauer said common barriers are poverty and unstable housing.

California public health officials have attempted to reach out to at-risk people through needle exchanges and in prisons, Bauer said. Syphilis is a curable disease.

It's part of an overall upward trend for sexually-transmitted diseases in the U.S. Cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia reached a record high at almost 2.3 million in 2017.

These infectious diseases have continued a four-year climb.

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