Today’s Infectious Disease News (2/14/23)

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Spike in Babies Born with Syphilis Exposes Gaps in Prenatal Care

The US is seeing a surge of congenital syphilis cases. In Mississippi alone, from the number of babies born with congenital syphilis rose from 10 infections in 2018 to 109 cases in 2021. This public health problem has been particularly prevalent in the South, with these states accounting for just over half of infections in 2018. The Western region of country reported over a third of all syphilis infections. Congenital syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection passed on from the mother to child during pregnancy. If untreated, syphilis can create a number of health issues, including low birth weight, miscarriage, infant death, stillbirth, bone deformations, and nervous system problems. Antibiotics can cure the disease, but screening tests are required detect the virus in infants. Most states, however, have inadequate screening requirements during pregnancy. do not require screening. Mississippi, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin have not enacted any screening requirements and only 19 states mandate third trimester screening. “This is a silent, quiet spread. We need to be screening in pregnancy,” said Dr. Irene Stafford, an associate professor at UTHealth McGovern Medical School. “If we just screened and treated in an appropriate fashion, we will be able to reduce that number of congenital syphilis cases.”

The crisis has also been defined by racial inequities. Black women experienced 40% of cases and Hispanic women experienced 21% of cases. Studies show these disparities stem from poor quality of care, a history of structural racism and insufficient policies for prenatal syphilis testing. “Unlike other sexually transmitted infections, syphilis bears the stigma of being interlinked with the legacy of Tuskegee, racism, distrust of government, and concerns about privacy or reporting bias. In particular, women with syphilis remain silent without advocacy and representation,” Stafford explained.

Full Story: USA Today