Cases of babies born with syphilis rise during COVID pandemic in Louisiana, CDC says

By: - April 12, 2022 4:21 pm
A profile of a newborn baby's face

Birth centers have surged in popularity, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted increased interest in out-of-hospital birth options. (Canva)

Certain sexual transmitted diseases spiked across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, including sharp increases in cases involving babies born with syphilis, federal health officials reported Tuesday.

Louisiana ranked in the top 10 in that category — congenital syphilis, a disease occurring when a mother passes the STD to their newborn.

Of the 47 states with data for congenital syphilis, Louisiana ranked seventh, with 63 cases and a rate of 107 per 100,000 live births in 2020, according to a Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Louisiana’s rank is well over the national average rate of 57.3 and up from ninth-highest in 2019.

The highest rates were in New Mexico (182.9), Arizona (151.2) and Texas (148.6).

The 2020 report also showed that 47 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S territory had reported at least one case of congenital syphilis, compared to only 26 jurisdictions in 2011 reporting a case.

CDC officials held a news conference via telephone Tuesday to discuss findings from its 2020  surveillance report, saying that STD prevention measures were disrupted by COVID-19 as many health care providers halted in-person visits for STD screenings earlier in the pandemic.

Overall, the number of reported cases of syphilis increased in 2020 – up 6.8 percent from 2019 – according to the CDC.

But cases of congenital syphilis had “experienced the largest increase at 15 percent” since 2019, said Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. In 2020, the CDC reported 2,148 cases of congenital syphilis, including 149 stillbirths and infant deaths related to the disease.

“And the consequences of congenital syphilis are the most severe. They include lifelong physical and mental health problems, miscarriage, or stillbirth,” Mermin said.

In addition, early findings from the CDC show that syphilis among newborns has continued to increase in 2021, with 2,268 cases already reported.

“Unfortunately, we already know some STDs continued to increase in 2021 as well,” Mermin said. “Preliminary data indicate increases in syphilis and congenital syphilis last year, with congenital cases already surpassing 2020 levels.”

Still, the CDC report showed an overall decrease in cases of STDs in the United States, from 2.5 million cases in 2019 to 2.4 million in 2020. And reported cases of chlamydia declined 13 percent in 2020, Mermin said.

But health experts say that decrease was likely because of a lack of testing for STDs, as many clinics were closed due to the pandemic and health providers were focused on treating COVID-19 patients.

“This decline is concerning because chlamydia is often asymptomatic,” Mermin said.

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