Pandemic’s Awful Toll On Infants and Children

Syphilis in newborns is up 250% during pandemic. Experts blame lack of education, stigma around STIs.

HOUSTON CHRONICLE – Fifteen months ago, Solidad Odunuga received a phone call from the Houston Health Department.

Odunuga’s daughter, who had been living on and off the streets, had given birth to a baby boy named Emmanuel before leaving the hospital with no contact information or forwarding address.

Emmanuel was born with congenital syphilis, an infection passed to him during pregnancy from his mother. Odunuga suspects her daughter didn’t know she had syphilis.

“Once she found out, and I found out, there was no more education from that point,” Odunuga said. “Even from the hospital when she was leaving. No pamphlets, nothing to take with her. She had a social worker who was going to give her information, but somehow that fell through the cracks. They just let her go.”

Texas law requires pregnant women to be tested for syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B at their first prenatal visit, and again in the third trimester.

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When a mother or newborn is diagnosed with syphilis, their recovery depends on post-treatment surveillance for up to 15 months afterward, according to a Harris County study conducted by the Society for Fetal-Maternal Medicine.

Syphilis is curable, and if it is caught early enough and treated with penicillin during pregnancy, the baby can be cured with no problems, said Dr. Irene Stafford, a maternal-fetal specialist and associate professor at UTHealth’s McGovern Medical School.

But many like Odunuga’s daughter do not attend regular prenatal visits. Without information, education and outreach, infected people are often untreated and unaware of the longterm consequences of their infection, Stafford added.

In late July, Odunuga’s daughter gave birth to a second child with congenital syphilis. Again, she was not given options, information or guidance before she left the hospital on foot, Odunuga said.

That was about a month ago. Now Odunuga, 48, has quit her job to care for her two grandchildren, each suffering the longterm effects of syphilis.

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One doctor told her Emmanuel would never walk; another said he would be developmentally delayed … READ MORE. 

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