Congenital Syphilis in Newborns in Bexar County, Texas

Congenital syphilis in newborns is decreasing in San Antonio and unincorporated Bexar County, but rates of the disease remain high enough to represent a serious concern for local health officials, according to news reports.

Thus far in 2013, there have been seven reported cases of infants born with congenital syphilis in Bexar County, the fourth most populous county within Texas. At this same point last year, nine infants were born with the disease. In total, 18 babies with congenital syphilis were delivered in 2011, five of whom were stillborn.

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While nationwide trends indicate lowering rates of congenital syphilis, Bexar County has seen their rate rise in recent years. From 2005 to 2011, Bexar County’s congenital syphilis rate was five times the national average. According to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, there were 924 cases of syphilis in 2011, a 33 percent increase over the previous year.

“In most places in the United States, syphilis has been decreasing for years and has almost disappeared. It’s going in the opposite direction in San Antonio and that’s a serious problem,” Dr. Thomas Schlenker, Director of Health for the San Antonio M.P.H., said.

Schlenker recommends that pregnant women test for syphilis on at least three separate occasions, although expecting mothers are only required to get tested twice under Texas law.

Congenital Syphilis and Pregnancy

In particular, Schlenker says that testing for syphilis during the third trimester is important because it will reveal whether the baby has contracted the disease. If a mother tests positive for syphilis, a simple shot of penicillin can be administered to treat the disease and ensure that it won’t spread to the child.

The effects of congenital syphilis can be devastating in newborns. Left untreated, a syphilis-infected mother can give birth to children with birth defects, developmental delays, and damage to their eyes, ears, teeth, bones, and brain. Syphilis can also cause conditions such as miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, and death.

Fortunately, there are antibiotics that can treat and cure an adult of syphilis if the infection is detected early.

A sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium, syphilis symptoms can either go unobserved or be mistaken for the common flu. While the disease is curable in its early stages, late and latent stage syphilis can lead to a variety of health complications in adults and pregnant women can transmit their infection to their unborn children.

Syphilis Testing

STDcheck.com offers a Syphilis Test that searches for the antibodies developed by the immune system to combat the syphilis bacterium. This highly sensitive test can be performed 3 to 6 weeks after possible exposure, and test results can be returned within 1 to 2 days. If the test result is positive, then a follow-up test is performed to confirm the presence of syphilis.

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