Why are more American babies being born with syphilis? – Consumer health news



THURSDAY, September 16, 2021 (HealthDay News) – The number of American infants born with syphilis is increasing at an alarming rate, reaching a high not seen since the 1990s, according to new government figures.

Newborn syphilis, a potentially fatal disease, was at one point almost eliminated in the United States. But the disease has seen a resurgence in recent years – and 2020 was no exception, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, there have been over 2,000 known cases of neonatal syphilis among American infants born in 2020. This is up from 2019, and it continues a strong upward trend that started there. has several years.

“This is the highest number we’ve seen in 25 years,” said Virginia Bowen, lead author of a CDC report released Sept. 16 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection which, if left untreated, can cause serious health problems. One consequence is congenital syphilis, which is passed from mother to baby during pregnancy.

Congenital syphilis can have “devastating” effects, Bowen said, including miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death and, in infants, complications such as deformed bones, blindness and hearing loss.

Congenital syphilis is on the rise due to a larger problem: More Americans than ever are suffering from sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.

“It’s really a direct reflection of what we see in women and their male partners,” Bowen said.

Less than 20 years ago, syphilis was virtually non-existent in the United States. In the years that followed, however, the disease returned in force. In 2019, nearly 130,000 cases of syphilis were reported nationwide, according to the CDC, a 74% increase from 2015.

Why? There are certain factors that put people at an increased risk for syphilis, Bowen said.

Drug abuse is one such factor, and the country’s opioid epidemic has been cited as a reason for the syphilis surge. A 2019 CDC study found that in recent years, a growing percentage of straight women and men with syphilis reported using methamphetamine, heroin, or other injection drugs.

At the same time, public health resources for the prevention, detection and treatment of STDs have dwindled, according to David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors.

The organization, which represents the directors of STDs in the public health department, said that since 2003, the CDC’s division on STD prevention has been funded with a 40% reduction.

“The only federal agency focused on preventing STDs has gone without funding for the past 20 years,” Harvey said.

The luck with syphilis is that it is easily cured with injections of antibiotics, even as little as one. That is why he was once practically defeated.

However, it also means that most Americans view syphilis as a disease of the past. Even among healthcare providers, many may not have it on their radar, Harvey and Bowen said.

To help prevent congenital syphilis, the CDC says all pregnant women should be screened for the disease at their first prenatal visit. Women at increased risk – due to high rates of syphilis in their area, for example – should be screened again in the third trimester and at childbirth.

Even when a pregnant woman has the infection, antibiotic treatment can prevent her from passing it on to her baby.

Yet other CDC research has found that congenital syphilis still occurs, in part because some women lack timely prenatal care. In other cases, they are in antenatal care, but testing or treatment is not done on time.

“It’s a failure of the system,” Harvey said.

Bowen agreed. “We don’t need to have a case of congenital syphilis in the United States,” she said.

Yet, as of July 29, the CDC had received 2,022 reports of congenital syphilis in US infants born in 2020. That number already exceeds the 1,870 reported cases for 2019 and will likely be higher once the reporting period ends in October. the agency reported.

While prenatal care is essential in combating newborn syphilis, Bowen said, the first line of defense is preventing syphilis in adults.

She encouraged people to talk to their health care provider about prevention and testing. “Don’t be afraid to ask candid questions,” Bowen said. “It’s preventable and treatable.”

Harvey made similar remarks. “Know your risk factors for sexually transmitted infections,” he said. “Get tested regularly at a local clinic or doctor’s office and use barrier protection, including condoms.”

More information

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on congenital syphilis.

SOURCES: Virginia B. Bowen, PhD, MHS, Division of STD Prevention, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; David C. Harvey, MSW, Executive Director, National Coalition of STD Directors, Washington, DC; New England Journal of Medicine, September 16, 2021


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