Mississippi has seen a dramatic increase in the number of babies being born syphilis. Hospitals in the state treated just over 100 cases of congenital syphilis in 2021, compared to just 10 in 2016, according to a recent analysis of hospital billing data shared with NBC News (opens in new tab).
This analysis was shared by Dr. Thomas Dobbs (opens in new tab)the medical director of the Crossroads Clinic at the Mississippi State Department of Health in Jackson and dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“All pregnant women should get tested 2-3 times during pregnancy and delayed prenatal care is a big problem for MS [Mississippi]”, Dobbs tweeted (opens in new tab) Beginning of January.
Syphilis caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. During pregnancy, the germ can cross the placenta and infect the developing fetus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (opens in new tab) (CDC) recommends testing for the infection at the first prenatal visit. Those who test positive should receive immediate treatment antibiotics.
Related: Having a Baby: Stages of Pregnancy by Trimester
“Serological testing should also be done twice during the third trimester: at 28 weeks gestation and at delivery for pregnant women living in communities with high syphilis rates and for women who were at risk of syphilis disease during pregnancy “, it says Die CDC (opens in new tab).
Babies infected with T.pallidum are more likely to be born prematurely or with a low birth rate during pregnancy; The infection also increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death shortly after birth. Babies born with syphilis can develop bone deformities, liver and spleen enlargement and Brain and nerve problems, among other health problems.
Some infected newborns show no symptoms at birth, but if congenital syphilis is left untreated, affected children can develop serious health problems weeks to years later, according to the CDC. Treatment involves the newborn staying in the hospital after birth, sometimes for up to 10 days, and receiving injections of antibiotics.
The Mississippi Department of Health and Human Services does not officially track deaths from congenital syphilis, but it did tell NBC that at least one baby had died from the infection in 2021. Early numbers match those Dobbs shared with NBC, dr Paul Byers (opens in new tab)the state epidemiologist said the news agency.
The worrying numbers from Mississippi reflect a nationwide trend — the annual rate of congenital syphilis cases in the US has been rising steadily, although the rate of increase is not the same in all states.
The CDC had previously reported (opens in new tab) that the annual rate of congenital syphilis in the country was about 360 in 2013; That rate more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, and the rate has continued to rise since then preliminary data (opens in new tab) suggesting there have been about 2,700 cases in 2021.
In these preliminary analyses, the CDC pointed to “missed opportunities for prevention,” noting that a lack of timely prenatal care, syphilis testing, and treatment during pregnancy often explains why the infection occurred in babies born in 2021. Pregnant women miss timely syphilis treatment and prenatal testing for the STI for various reasons in different states Kaiser Family Foundation (opens in new tab) reported in 2022. These barriers to care include, for example, living in poverty, transportation problems and only accessing poorly funded public health services.
Read more in NBC News (opens in new tab).