Arizona saw some 53 congenital syphilis cases in 2018, including 10 baby fatalities, a dramatic increase from recent years. Of the 53 cases, Maricopa County, in the south-central part of the state and the county where Phoenix is located accounted for 30 of these cases.
According to the Maricopa County Health Department, the county is almost 60% higher than the national average and has beat the average for the last decade.
Of the 30 cases in 2018, five babies died.
“The increase in congenital syphilis rates is directly attributed to an increase in syphilis among both men and women and a failure to screen for syphilis during pregnancy,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for Disease Control at Maricopa County Public Health. “That is why it is vital that physicians pay attention to the screening requirements; testing at the first pre-natal visit, and again at the third trimester and birth. The only way we will reduce these community rates is with this aggressive screening and treatment.”
“Syphilis can be treated and cured with just penicillin, but you have to know it’s there to treat it,” Sunenshine added.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which is spread by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can also be spread from mother to baby during pregnancy. Syphilis has been called “the great imitator” because its symptoms are similar to other infections and diseases. Additionally, its symptoms can be so mild that you may not notice that you have them.
Pregnant women with untreated syphilis can pass the infection to their developing baby at any time, causing bone disorders, deafness, other congenital defects, or even stillbirth/death.
Arizona Revised Statute A.R.S.36-693 requires providers to test all pregnant women for syphilis at the time of the first prenatal care visit. Due to the high rates of congenital syphilis in Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) has issued a Public Health Order for providers to test pregnant women for syphilis in the third trimester (28-32 weeks) to ensure effective treatment of both mother and child. A third syphilis test is also recommended at delivery to identify any missed cases of congenital syphilis.
All reactive syphilis tests must be reported to MCDPH STD Program by the provider. Pregnant individuals without access to prenatal care are encouraged to visit the MCDPH STD Clinic at 1645 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ, 85006 or visit STDAZ.com for other low cost testing options.