Health Officials in San Diego County Encourage Pregnant Women to Get Screened for Syphilis

San Diego County public health officials are urging pregnant individuals or those planning to become pregnant to speak with their healthcare provider about getting screened for syphilis. The number of babies born with syphilis has increased in the county, reaching a record 35 cases in 2022. Syphilis is a contagious bacterial infection that can be transmitted through sexual contact or from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, known as congenital syphilis. If left untreated, congenital syphilis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, severe health issues in infants, and even death.

The county has seen a rise in congenital syphilis cases, with 35 reported in 2022, up from 30 cases in 2021, including two stillbirths. Since 2013, the rate of congenital syphilis in the county has increased by nearly 1,200%. Additionally, cases of syphilis in women of childbearing age (15 to 49 years) have increased from 369 cases in 2021 to 424 cases in 2022. It is crucial for pregnant individuals to get tested for syphilis during their first and third trimester prenatal visits, as treatment during pregnancy can protect the baby from the infection.

Syphilis can have mild symptoms or be mistaken for other health conditions, but it can be effectively treated with antibiotics, even during pregnancy. Sexual partners of individuals with syphilis should also be tested and treated to prevent further transmission. Congenital syphilis in babies can lead to bone abnormalities, severe anemia, organ enlargement, and brain and nerve problems like vision or hearing loss.

Nationwide, cases of syphilis, including congenital syphilis, have been on the rise since the early 2000s, though there was a slight decrease from 2021 to 2022. Testing for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases is available at county public health centers to help prevent the spread of infections and protect the health of pregnant individuals and their babies.

By Samantha Robertson

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