Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) announces since 2012, rates of syphilis among both men and women have been steadily increasing in Los Angeles County and in California. Cases in women rose by 50% from 2016 to 2017, affecting individuals in almost every area of the county. Most notably, more pregnant women have been diagnosed with syphilis and the number of cases of congenital syphilis has increased over the past five years, from six in 2012 to 44 cases in 2017.
Congenital syphilis is a preventable condition that results from untreated syphilis during pregnancy. Potential consequences for the infected baby include stillbirth, neonatal death, blindness, deafness and skeletal deformations. Fetal transmission can occur during any trimester. Preventing adverse pregnancy outcomes requires early screening and, if positive, immediate treatment at least 30 days before delivery.
Due to the increase in congenital syphilis cases, Public Health is recommending more rigorous syphilis screening guidelines to include expanded third trimester screening and a recommendation to screen all women of reproductive age (15-44 years) for syphilis at least once.
“My goal is to eliminate congenital syphilis cases in LA County,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “Enhanced collaboration and partnership with local hospitals, community based organizations, and school districts throughout the County is key to help raise awareness, increase screenings and drive congenital syphilis rates down.”
Public Health recently launched a medical provider education campaign aimed at improving awareness of syphilis trends and guidelines and earlier detection and treatment of syphilis in women before they may become pregnant. During an eight-week period in May and June, Public Health representatives will provide syphilis tutorials and assessments to more than 500 medical providers who serve patients at higher risk of syphilis and pregnant women.
Other county efforts include jail based screening programs, expedited partner treatment to local clinics, and free and low cost online ordering options for home delivery of condoms and STD test kits. Public Health is also working with the local Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Network to implement the newly enacted California Healthy Youth Act, which mandates comprehensive STD/HIV prevention education in middle and high schools.
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