The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said over 900 babies born in the states were infected with syphilis in 2017. Since 2013, the number of babies with syphilis at the time of birth has doubled and is now at a 20-year high.
The CDC said there is an epidemic in the number of STDs in the U.S., hitting record highs. Syphilis doubled in 2017.
Although syphilis is curable with antibiotics, the STD tends not to have any outward symptoms, and most sufferers don’t know they have it. Therein lies the problem with pregnant women. A pregnant woman with syphilis can affect their baby, who then becomes infected with the disease themselves.
It can cause deformed bones, blindness, deafness, severe anemia and meningitis. In worst case scenarios, it results in a stillborn or a baby who dies shortly after their birth. Those who don’t die right after birth dies prematurely.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin with the CDC said there’s no reason for parents to endure a child’s death when the solution is a simple test and treatment to prevent the disease’s spread. The CDC said pregnant women have an 80 percent chance of passing the disease to their babies.
CDC Division of STD Prevention Director Dr. Gail Bolan said protection for the babies begins by protecting the mother. Bolan said early testing and immediate treatment to cure the infections is important, but most women are falling through the crack’s system. This has to change, she said, if the number of congenital syphilis is to drop.
Many women – about nine percent – have no access to health care and health insurance coverage. While this is risky when not pregnant, it becomes even riskier when they are pregnant.
Medicaid is a state-federal health insurance plans for people with little to no income and is supposed to insure pregnant women. The Affordable Care Act also offers policies for pregnant women.
However, a CDC team discovered that 15 percent of women lacked adequate prenatal care in 2016. 23 percent failed to get any kind of prenatal care in their first trimester.
Based on the 2016 numbers, the CDC research found that one in three pregnant women with syphilis was tested for the STD at least once during their pregnancy. They either tested negative or failed to get timely treatment to protect their unborn child.
The CDC has suggested medical professionals to continue testing a pregnant woman throughout her pregnancy and at the time of birth, especially those at high risk for syphilis or who live in an area where the disease is extraordinarily high.
The CDC said the highest state with syphilis-related births is Louisiana (93 per 100,000 births) while Mississippi had the lowest rate (2.6 cases per 100,000 births).
The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials blame funding cuts to public health programs for the rise in congenital syphilis.
Association CEO Michael Fraser said it’s not that big of a surprise to see an increase in STD cases because of the cuts in public health budgets. He said states are reporting a large number of congenital syphilis at a time when funding for STD prevention has decreased, and it’s unfortunate.
Fraser said the recent STD statistics show that public funding is necessary. After all, medical professionals and the public know what needs to be done, but they need the resources to pull it off.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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