Mississippi ranks second in the country with babies having syphilis

Dr. Thomas Dobbs says untreated syphilis can result in life-threatening damage to the heart, brain and other organs.
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 6:36 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - “We’re number two in the country for syphilis, and we’re number one for all other STD’s essentially,” stated Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the dean of the school of population health at UMMC.

He was expressing his heartfelt concerns for the rising number of syphilis cases among newborns here in Mississippi.

“We have documented three babies who have died right after being born with a diagnosis of syphilis,” he said.

Congenital syphilis, a bacterial disease, usually spreads by sexual contact. The bacteria can remain inactive in the body for years before becoming active again.

Syphilis can be passed to unborn children through the placenta or during birth. Most babies with congenital syphilis begin with little to no symptoms.

“A lot of people have syphilis and don’t know it. It’s not something that people realize because it’s kind of an invisible disease for most people, so make sure you know to get tested during pregnancy,” said Dobbs.

Dobbs says untreated syphilis can result in life-threatening damage to the heart, brain and other organs. “If a baby gets syphilis, there’s a high likelihood of severe deformity or even death, and if a woman catches syphilis during her pregnancy, there’s about a 40-percent miscarriage rate. So it’s really devastating for the babies.”

Nationally, the rate of syphilis has increased by 147-percent since 2016.

Mississippi has experienced an increase of greater than 900-percent of babies born with syphilis in the past six years. But Dobbs says there are ways to prevent and cure the disease.

“It’s usually treated with a shot of penicillin, but we have to find it, we have to get women engaged in prenatal care.”

The key to addressing this issue, Dobbs says, is early prenatal care.

“Prenatal care is so very important for health and not only diagnosing syphilis and getting moms treated, but also for preventing infant mortality and making sure women have healthy pregnancies.”

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