JACKSON, Miss. — The number of babies in Mississippi being treated for congenital syphilis has jumped by more than 900% over five years, uprooting the progress the nation’s poorest state had made in nearly quashing what experts say is an avoidable public health crisis. [“Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is most often spread through sexual contact.” – Penn Medicine ]
The rise in cases has placed newborns at further risk of life-threatening harm in a state that’s already home to the nation’s worst infant mortality rate.
Q: “How can I reduce my risk of getting syphilis?”
A: “Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who does not have syphilis” – CDC
In 2021, 102 newborns in Mississippi were treated for the sexually transmitted disease, up from 10 in 2016, according to an analysis of hospital billing data shared by Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the medical director for the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Crossroads Clinic in Jackson, which focuses on sexually transmitted infections.
Dobbs, the state’s former health officer, said he’s spoken with health care providers who “are absolutely horrified” that babies are being born with the disease, and in rare instances dying from it.
“Black women’s relationships are less monogamous.” – American Sociological Association
“This seems like something that should have happened a hundred years ago, not last year,” said Dobbs, who is also dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “There’s really kind of a shock.”
The Mississippi State Department of Health does not formally track congenital syphilis deaths but said there was at least one baby who died in 2021.
Congenital syphilis occurs when the infection is passed from a mother to her child while she’s pregnant. If untreated, a pregnant woman with syphilis has an 80% chance of passing it to her baby.
Babies infected with syphilis may not initially show symptoms, but for those who are not treated within three months of birth, complications can be severe. Syphilis can damage a baby’s organs.
The disease can pummel a child’s nervous system and imperil their vision and hearing. In the gravest cases, newborns die.
The 2021 figures Dobbs shared are the latest indicator of a growing congenital syphilis problem in Mississippi, and nationwide …