Florida among top 5 states for highest rates of syphilis among newborns


Florida ranks No. 5 among states for the highest rates of babies born with syphilis infections passed on by their mothers, according to a recently released report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Across the country, the number of newborns with syphilis spiked from 362 cases in 2013 to 918 in 2017. That's the highest number of recorded cases in 20 years, according to the CDC.

Florida reported 93 cases of congenital syphilis in 2017, up from 60 cases the year before. The Sunshine State's rate for babies born with syphilis was about 41.3 cases per 100,000 births, which is much higher than the national average of 23.3 cases per 100,000 births.

Despite testing for sexually transmitted diseases being recommended during pregnancy, mothers remains under screened for STDs.

"Although most cases of congenital syphilis occur among infants whose
mothers have had some prenatal care, late or limited prenatal care has been
associated with congenital syphilis," the report said. "Failure of health care providers to adhere to prenatal syphilis screening recommendations, as well
as acquisition of infection during pregnancy after the initial screening
test, also contribute to the occurrence of congenital syphilis."

When mothers pass syphilis to their babies during pregnancy, the infection can cause miscarriage, newborn death, premature birth, low birth weight, deformed bones, severe anemia, meningitis, skin rashes, brain and nerve problems, and other severe lifelong physical and mental health problems, according to the CDC. About 40 percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborns or die from the infection as newborns. Babies with congenital syphilis may not have symptoms at birth, but without treatment, these health problems can develop in the weeks and even years after birth. 

"No parent should have to bear the death of a child when it would have been prevented with a simple test and safe treatment," said Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s national center for STDs and other infectious diseases, in a statement.

Among Florida's 67 counties, the greatest increases in congenital syphilis rates came from Escambia, Duval, Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange Counties, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

The number of newborns born with syphilis in Orange County jumped from 3 cases in 2016 to 6 cases in 2017. This small spike, though, caused the rate  to rise from 17.9 cases per 100,000 births to 35.3 cases.

The Florida Department of Health in Orange County's STD program considers all pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis a high priority, according to the department.

"We work with all providers to ensure testing and adequate treatment is provided in accordance with CDC guidelines," says Willie Brown of the department's STD program. "Every effort is made to locate and bring them in for adequate treatment at least thirty days prior to delivery. In addition DOH Orange has created a congenital syphilis review board to look into each CDC defined congenital syphilis case to determine what if anything could have been done to prevent that case."

Miami-Dade and Broward reported the most congenital syphilis cases across the state, with 31 and 11 cases respectively. The rate of babies born with syphilis in Miami-Dade, in particular, skyrocketed to 96.9 cases per 100,000 births in 2017 from just 24.5 cases per 100,000 births in 2015.

The CDC report also found that Florida remains among the top 10 states for syphilis infections in general, climbing from an initial rate in 2013 of 25.7 cases per 100,000 people to 43.4 cases in 2017. Out of 30,644 cases of syphilis in the U.S. last year, Florida accounted for 2,390 infections.

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