|Pew Charitable Trusts chart: Yellow line shows syphilis cases|
in women; blue bars show cases in babies (click it to enlarge)
Congenital syphilis cases among newborns increased 154 percent between 2013 and 2017. During the same time period, the use of meth, heroin and other intravenous drugs among women with syphilis more than doubled, Alayna Alvarez reports for Stateline.
"There’s a clear connection, as we’re seeing, between drug use, the opioid crisis and the rise of syphilis and congenital syphilis," said Brian Katzowitz, a spokesperson for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Syphilis is much more serious in babies than adults. When adults contract the disease, it can be cured with antibiotics. But a baby born with congenital syphilis can have "deformities, severe anemia, an enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice or brain and nerve problems such as blindness or deafness," Alvarez reports. "Up to 40 percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die as a newborn" according to the CDC.
"Many addicted pregnant women forgo prenatal visits for fear of being drug tested and losing custody of their babies, doctors say. And mothers with untreated syphilis have an 80 percent chance of infecting their unborn babies, contributing to a growing crisis that many states have tried to combat in recent years," Alvarez reports. Most states require syphilis testing at the first prenatal visit, and 18 states require third-trimester screenings for women considered at high risk of infection.