The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday shared an update about key legislation intended to combat congenital syphilis in New Mexico.
Syphilis during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and infant death – and is entirely preventable with timely testing and treatment of pregnant mothers. In New Mexico, cases of congenital syphilis – meaning syphilis among newborns – have increased sharply in recent years, from just 6 cases in 2017 to an alarming 26 cases in 2019. This follows national trends, with far more syphilis cases among heterosexual women of child-bearing age over the past five years.
In states with high syphilis prevalence, current guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend testing of pregnant women on three separate occasions: 1) at the first prenatal visit, 2) during the third trimester, and 3) at delivery.
However, language in the New Mexico Public Health Act related to syphilis has not been revised in over 40 years. As such, the language is out of step with current medical knowledge and CDC guidance.
Senate Bill 184, carried by Senator Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics (Santa Fe) and Representative Joanne J. Ferrary (Las Cruces), seeks to address this challenge. The proposed legislation will update the Public Health Act, Section 24-1-10, to remove outdated language requiring a single blood test as well as outdated language about how testing is implemented. In its place will be simple language directing all physicians who examine pregnant women for conditions related to pregnancy to follow current CDC guidelines, which reflect the best science and medical knowledge. Increased testing of pregnant women can catch syphilis early, allowing timely treatment that prevents infections from being passed to their children. By referencing CDC guidelines and best practices, this legislation will not need to be amended again as syphilis case rates rise and fall over time.
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