American babies born with syphilis have quadrupled in 5 years

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Even though congenital syphilis is preventable, 1,870 babies were born with the disease in 2019 and 128 babies died from it, according to an article co-published by ProPublica and NPR.

More than 129,800 cases of syphilis in the United States were reported in 2019, double the figure five years earlier. During the same period, cases of congenital syphilis quadrupled. The number of cases for 2020 is not yet final, but the CDC has said congenital syphilis cases exceed 2019, with black, Hispanic and Native American babies at disproportionately higher risk.

If pregnant people infected with syphilis are treated with three weekly injections of penicillin at least 30 days before birth, it can likely clear the infection and the baby is born without any symptoms. If left untreated, some babies may be born with deformed bones or damaged brains.

On two occasions – in the 1960s and in 1999 – the CDC announced efforts to eradicate the disease.

“We have a long history of eradicating something and then shifting focus and resurging in numbers,” said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. “We have more cases of congenital syphilis today in America than we ever had pediatric AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It is heartbreaking.”

As the fear decreases, so does the attention, funding, and motivation to fix the problem. Too often, when attention is diverted, the hardest to reach and most vulnerable populations find themselves in pain.

The CDC’s 2015-20 budget for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections increased by 2.2%, which, after adjusting for inflation, represents a 7.4% drop in purchasing power. At the same time, cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia have increased by almost 30%.

In May 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration said it would spend $ 7.4 billion over the next five years on public health workers, including $ 1.1 billion for intervention specialists against diseases.


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