Alarming 700% Rise in Congenital Syphilis Cases Sparks Syphilis Outbreak in Houston

Rising Cases of Congenital Syphilis Spark Concern in Houston

Houston has been hit with a surge in syphilis cases, particularly among women, according to a report by the Houston Health Department. The city has witnessed a staggering 128% increase in syphilis cases among women and a ninefold rise in congenital cases since 2019. The situation is dire, with the latest data showing an overall increase of 57% in new syphilis infections from 2019 to 2022.

Health officials in Houston sounded the alarm about the outbreak in a news release on Thursday. The report reveals that in 2022 alone, there were 674 cases of syphilis among women, a sharp rise from the 295 cases reported in 2019. The number of cases of congenital syphilis, which occurs when a pregnant person passes the bacterial infection to their baby in the womb, also increased significantly from 16 cases in 2016 to 151 cases in 2021.

Untreated congenital syphilis can have severe consequences, such as stillbirth or damage to the baby’s organs and bones. In light of the alarming situation, Marlene McNeese Ward, the deputy assistant director in the Houston Health Department’s Bureau of HIV/STI and Viral Hepatitis Prevention, emphasized the importance of pregnant women seeking prenatal care and syphilis testing. According to Ward, pregnant women should get tested for syphilis three times during their pregnancy – at the initial prenatal visit, during the third trimester, and at delivery.

To combat the outbreak, the Houston Health Department is taking several measures. They plan to waive all clinical fees for sexually transmitted infections at their health centers. Additionally, they will expand the use of their HIV/STD mobile clinic, setting up in areas considered hotspots and increasing the number of community screening sites.

Syphilis, a bacterial infection primarily spread through sexual contact, often starts with a painless sore on the genitals or mouth. Although easily treatable with antibiotics when caught early, the infection can remain dormant for years or even decades, leading to severe complications such as damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, and other organs.

The rise in syphilis cases, including congenital syphilis, is a national concern. Across the United States, there has been a 700% increase in infections in newborns over the past decade. Experts attribute this alarming trend to factors such as inadequate public funding for sexual health programs, a shortage of qualified personnel, and insufficient Medicaid coverage for screening.

Due to the initial stages of syphilis often lacking obvious symptoms, pregnant individuals and their healthcare providers may not realize the need for screening. To address this issue, it is crucial to raise awareness about the importance of regular testing and prenatal care for pregnant individuals, as well as to allocate more resources to sexual health programs and education nationwide.

The rising incidence of congenital syphilis in Houston serves as a stark reminder of the need for comprehensive sexual health strategies and increased support for vulnerable communities. It is essential that healthcare systems work together to promote early detection and treatment, ensuring the well-being of both mothers and their babies.