Syphilis Outbreak in Houston Sees Alarming Rise Among Women, Congenital Cases Share

New Article Title: Syphilis Outbreak Hits Houston, Putting Pregnant Women and Unborn Babies at Risk

Houston is facing a severe syphilis outbreak, with alarming increases in cases among women and congenital infections. According to the Houston Health Department, the number of new syphilis infections has risen by 57% from 2019 to 2022, with 2,905 new cases reported last year alone. This outbreak has led to a 128% increase in infections among women in the city and a ninefold increase in congenital syphilis cases in Houston and the surrounding Harris County area since 2019. The health officials have urgently addressed this crisis through a rapid community outreach response.

Section 1:
In a news release on Thursday, health officials in Houston announced the staggering rise in syphilis cases. The outbreak has hit women the hardest, with 674 cases reported in 2022, compared to 295 cases in 2019. Furthermore, there were 151 cases of congenital syphilis in 2021, a significant increase from just 16 cases in 2016. Congenital syphilis occurs when a pregnant person transmits the bacterial infection to their baby in the womb. If left untreated, it can result in stillbirth or cause severe damage to the baby’s organs or bones.

Section 2:
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 prenatal care and syphilis testing for pregnant women. She stated that pregnant women should undergo syphilis testing three times during their pregnancy. The testing should take place at the initial prenatal visit, during the third trimester, and at delivery. To address the outbreak and encourage testing, the health department has waived all clinical fees for sexually transmitted infections at its health centers.

Section 3:
In addition to waiving clinical fees, the Houston Health Department plans to expand the use of its HIV/STD mobile clinic. They aim to increase the number of community screening sites and set up in areas identified as hotspots based on disease monitoring and case management data. This expansion will enable the department to reach more people and provide essential testing services.

Section 4:
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is primarily transmitted through sexual contact. It usually starts with a painless sore on the genitals or mouth, and direct contact with these sores spreads the infection. Early detection of syphilis is crucial, as it can be easily treated with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, the infection can lie dormant in the body for years or even decades, eventually attacking the brain, nerves, eyes, and other organs. This can lead to deafness, blindness, and even death.

Section 5:
The rise in congenital syphilis cases is not exclusive to Houston but is a nationwide concern. In the past decade, infections in newborns have increased by about 700% across the United States, particularly in the South and Southwest regions. Experts attribute this rise to a combination of factors, including a lack of public funding for sexual health programs, a shortage of qualified personnel, and inconsistent coverage for screening by Medicaid.

The syphilis outbreak in Houston poses a grave threat to the health and well-being of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Health officials are working diligently to combat this crisis through increased testing, community outreach, and expanded healthcare services. It is crucial for pregnant women to seek prenatal care, undergo syphilis testing, and follow the recommended testing schedule to protect themselves and their babies from the devastating effects of this infection. Public awareness and support for sexual health programs are vital in preventing the further spread of syphilis and reducing the risk to vulnerable populations.