Mississippi grapples with 900% increase in infants born with syphilis

What is being called an "alarming" 900 percent increase in infants being treated for congenital syphilis in Mississippi has health officials concerned, NBC News reported Feb. 11. The increase is also disproportionately affecting Black mothers and infants.

"This seems like something that should have happened a hundred years ago, not last year," Thomas Dobbs, MD, the medical director for the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Crossroads Clinic in Jackson, told NBC. 

The disease, which is primarily passed to a child from its mother during birth if the mother has an untreated case, affects the functionality of a baby's organs and can sometimes become deadly if left untreated. 

Mississippi, which already has the worst infant mortality rate of any state in the nation, does not track infant deaths specifically caused by congenital syphilis, NBC reports. 

The increase in infants contracting congenital syphilis is part of a larger, ongoing trend nationwide. Recently, the CDC reported that since 2017, cases of syphilis in the U.S. have increased 68.4 percent. 

Prevention is possible if mothers are treated prior to giving birth, but NBC reports that lack of obstetric care in many areas throughout Mississippi leads to long travel distances and pushing off appointments until truly needed, which may result in some instances going without treatment. 

Becker's reached out to the Mississippi State Department of Health for comment regarding what it plans to do in addressing the increase going forward. We are awaiting a reply.

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