STIs in newborns have increased dramatically during the pandemic (VIDEO)
There has been a sharp increase in STIs in newborns. What to do to fight against the increase?
The pandemic has touched just about every aspect of American life, exposed some of our greatest disparities, and opened the door to new challenges. For many healthcare workers, that means an increase in the things they thought the country had a grip on.
“It’s not just like a problem. It’s a crisis,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of health in St. Louis, Missouri.
The United States had made progress in the fight against sexually transmitted infections like congenital syphilis in the early 2000s.
Dr. Davis says those gains have disappeared.
“We had a hyper focus on COVID that took away our ability to really prioritize and understand that other aspects of health don’t go away,” Davis said.
According to the CDC, by the end of 2020, syphilis in newborns, which is usually transmitted during pregnancy, had increased by nearly 15% from 2019 and 254% from 2016.
40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from the infection. Those who survive face challenges.
Dr. Anna Maya Powell is co-director of the Johns Hopkins HIV Women’s Program.
“An untreated case of congenital syphilis can lead to things like brain or bone malformations, which can cause blindness over time or organ damage,” Powell said.
Experts point to a myriad of reasons for the rise: On the one hand, people stopped getting checked out in 2020, or relied on telemedicine, which could miss a diagnosis.
Another obstacle was that public resources to fight STIs were often diverted to the COVID response.
According to Dr. Powell, the congruent opioid epidemic has not helped.
“Pregnant patients who use substances during pregnancy – They are less likely to come for prenatal care,” Powell said.
There are also inconsistencies in health care requirements. According to the CDC, only 13 states and DC require all patients to be tested for syphilis in the first and third trimesters. Eight states require no testing.
Davis says none of that matters if a patient doesn’t have access to care in the first place. This is a problem disproportionately faced by ethnic minorities.
“We see the same pattern, not just in STIs, but in all disease states. So that means it’s not just about genes. It’s not about a specific disease. It’s not s “It’s not about a specific problem. It’s about those fundamental structural issues that need to be addressed,” Davis said.
Doctors tell Newsy that one of the first ways to tackle the problem is to shake off the stigma, making talking about STIs a routine during doctor visits. Another solution is to ensure that partners are also treated for STIs. These are simple steps – but also things they think need funding.