Minnesota has the most cases of prenatal syphilis in 40 years. This is when the infection is passed from mother to baby while the mother is pregnant. Health officials are calling for more regular prenatal screening right away because 29 newborn cases were reported in 2023.
The rise happens at the same time that syphilis rates have risen quickly across the state. In the last 10 years, they have gone up by over 244%. For women, early cases have gone up at an even more shocking rate of 1,800% during this time.
Because of the crisis, the Minnesota Department of Health has changed its rules on prenatal testing because the number of babies who are affected is getting close to amounts not seen since the 1980s. Women who are expecting should now get checked for syphilis at least three times:
- Early in the third trimester
- At delivery
- If symptoms appear or following contact with an infected partner
Doctors are being told to carefully follow the suggestions for patients who are thought to have a high chance of getting the sexually transmitted bacterial illness.
A Preventable Health Emergency Putting Newborns at Risk
When a pregnant woman with an advanced form of syphilis gives it to her unborn child through the placenta, the baby is born with the disease. The baby could be seriously hurt if the mother is not given medicines while she is pregnant.
It’s possible for the baby to be born early, die, or have a low birth weight or other birth defects that could be dangerous.
Health officials say that the infection could not have spread between moms and babies if they had received proper medical care. The rise in Minnesota is similar to a trend seen across the country. This is mostly because of poor pregnancy screening and follow-up.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that syphilis numbers across the country have been rising at a worrying rate, going up by more than 50% since 2015. In 2020, there were almost 131,000 cases, which was the most since 1991.
According to the CDC, regular prenatal syphilis tests could save the lives of about 220 babies born each year. The current rules say that people should get their first checkup early on and then get more tests later if they are at a higher risk.
Ongoing efforts to contain surging STI rates
Sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia have become much more common in Minnesota over the past ten years. This includes newborn syphilis.
In response, the state’s health department is launching a number of educational programs and making it easier for people to get tests and treatment. A lot of attention is also paid to preventative steps like using condoms and partner screenings.
Improving prenatal care is now the most important thing that can be done to stop the outbreak from spreading to moms and babies. As the numbers keep going up, officials are hopeful that strong steps taken today can help reverse the decades-high infection rates that are a threat to the next generation in Minnesota.