With Alarming Spike In Congenital Syphilis In Humboldt, DHHS Urges Community To Get Tested | Lost Coast Outpost


As COVID continues to sweep through Humboldt County, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is concerned about another outbreak that could affect the community more than we think – an outbreak of syphilis, an infection sexually transmitted infection, which, if left untreated, can have devastating effects.

Hava Phillips, public health nurse for communicable disease prevention at DHHS, says that in 2021 Humboldt County recorded two cases of congenital syphilis – a rare and often extremely serious condition caused by a mother with syphilis transmitting the infection to the baby during pregnancy. And while two cases may not seem like a lot, Philips says the number is incredibly surprising. Humboldt recorded a case of congenital syphilis in 2020 and before that the county had not seen a single case in over a decade.

“Congenital syphilis is a really horrible outcome,” Phillips told the Outpost in a recent phone interview, adding that the disease can lead to serious conditions including low birth weight, birth defects, miscarriage and even stillbirth. “It is a disease that public health would like to ensure is prevented in our community. “

The increase in congenital syphilis is not unique to Humboldt. The United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases in recent years. According to the CDC, 1,870 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2019 – including 94 stillbirths and 34 infant deaths – a 477% increase from 2012.

Aside from the horrific results, what’s troubling about the re-emergence of congenital syphilis, Phillips said, is that it indicates a serious epidemic of syphilis in general. Rates of syphilis are traditionally lower in women than in men, and even lower in pregnant women. The rate of babies born with syphilis is even lower because it can often be prevented with early detection and treatment. So, due to the very low chances of seeing these two cases, public health can assume that the infection is much more present in the community than the test numbers indicate.

This raises another worrying factor – the number of STD / STI tests administered in the county has dropped significantly during the pandemic, Phillips said. So while indicators such as congenital syphilis cases show the infection is spreading in Humboldt County, the numbers are not there to confirm it and many cases are clearly not being detected and treated. As people get vaccinated and things get slack, Phillips expects that to change.

“We expect an increase in the number,” Phillips said. “We would see that as a good thing at this point. We would rather see people come in for testing and treatment, rather than just having indicators of their presence in the community. ”

Overall rates of STDs and STIs have been on the rise in recent years, with the CDC reporting an all-time high of 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – the three most common STIs – in 2019. The The same was true in Humboldt, with the county reporting an unprecedented rise in HIV and syphilis in 2018.

At the time, public health said that although intravenous drug use was a risk factor for contracting HIV, none of the cases had been contracted this way and was largely linked to relationships. unprotected sex organized through hookup apps like Grindr.

Phillips said the increase in HIV cases has not been significant in Humboldt County since the 2018 epidemic and that the continued increase in syphilis cases is currently the main concern. She also said the recent cases were not necessarily related to the use of hook-up apps, but were certainly caused by unprotected sex, as syphilis is mainly spread through sex and not through intravenous drug use.

With this continuing spike in syphilis cases, Phillips stressed the importance of using condoms and getting tested regularly. Even during the pandemic, people still need to get tested for STDs and STIs. She also wanted to stress the importance for pregnant women to get tested and seek antenatal care as soon as possible. Severe symptoms of syphilis and congenital syphilis can be prevented with early detection and treatment.

“Everyone who is sexually active should be tested for STIs,” Phillips said. “And it’s important to let health care providers know what kind of sex you are having. If you have oral sex, you will need an oral swab. If you are having anal sex, you will need an anal swab. Whatever your risk factors, just get tested.

If you don’t have a primary care provider, the public health branch of DHHS offers free testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (closed for lunch between noon and 1 p.m.) at 529 I Street, Eureka.

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