Syphilis in newborns up by 900% in Mississippi

Congenital syphilis rates going up across the country

By Brian Ward

A 900% increase in congenital  syphilis in babies born in Mississippi has state health officials concerned, NBC News reported this February. In 2021 there were 102 newborns in Mississippi who were treated for congenital syphilis, up from 10 newborns in 2016. The research also notes that this increase disproportionally impacts black mothers and children.

"This seems like something that should have happened a hundred years ago, not last year," Thomas Dobbs, MD, the medical director for the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Crossroads Clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, told NBC.

Congenital syphilis is when a mother who is infected with syphilis passes the disease to their child during pregnancy. The first treatment for congenital syphilis was pioneered in the 1944. If the mother is given a series of penicillin shots a month before giving birth, it prevents the disease from being passed to the infant. However, without treatment there’s an 80% chance that the infant will contract the disease.

Congenital syphilis cases have more than doubled nationally as well, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found cases have increased from 941 in 2017 to at least 2,677 in 2021 in the U.S.

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