Arkansas state health officials report every region in Arkansas is seeing an increase in the number of syphilis cases, especially among women. From 2017 to 2021 there was a 164% increase (from 562 to 1,482) overall in early syphilis cases and a 285% increase (from 155 to 597) among women of reproductive ages (15-44 years).
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it is not treated. Syphilis is divided into clinical stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. There are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage, ranging from open sores, rash, and flu-like symptoms to long-term damage to the heart, brain, and other organs.
Syphilis among pregnant women is especially a concern due to the potential of congenital syphilis, which happens when a mother with syphilis passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy. Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth, preterm delivery, and other congenital abnormalities. Congenital syphilis is preventable by early detection of maternal infection and appropriate treatment prior to delivery. Arkansas saw a 254% increase (from 13 to 46) in congenital syphilis cases from 2017 to 2021 and during this timeframe 9 babies died before birth, with 55% (5) occurring in 2021.
Syphilis is spread through sexual contact or from an infected mother to a newborn. Transmission can be prevented, and treatment is available. Transmission can be prevented by being in a monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected, or by using protection for any sexual contact. If an infection is suspected, get a test from a healthcare provider or the nearest ADH Local Health Unit and notify partners immediately if infected. The State of Arkansas requires testing of all pregnant women at the 1st prenatal care visit and 3rd trimester (between 28-32 weeks gestation). Testing at delivery is required if not done during the pregnancy. Syphilis can be treated using a medication prescribed by a healthcare provider. A person can be re-infected after treatment.
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