Oklahoma has experienced a 283% increase in the number of congenital syphilis cases in women since 2014. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is already seeing a 92% increase in the number of cases from 2018 to 2019, and is urging health care providers to test patients during the first and third trimesters.
Congenital syphilis is an infectious disease transmitted by an infected mother to her baby in the womb. Adults transmit syphilis through sexual contact but mothers can transmit the infection to their baby in the womb or through the birthing process. The disease can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, death shortly after birth, prematurity and birth defects. A woman can be treated and cured for syphilis during pregnancy, but it is important for women to be tested in time for treatment to be effective.
Babies who test positive for syphilis at birth must be treated immediately to prevent serious health issues.
Terrainia Harris, an administrative program manager for the OSDH Sexual Health and Harm Reduction (SHHR) Service, said it is important for women to be tested at the first prenatal visit or at the time pregnancy is confirmed, and again early in the third trimester.
“The most effective method for getting ahead of this epidemic is early testing and treatment,” said Harris. “The resurgence of syphilis cases in recent years highlights the fact that challenges remain and we are encouraging clinicians to get back to basics with syphilis prevention, testing, and treatment. We are asking them to assist us in focusing efforts to strengthen treatment administration and adherence, as well as improve case identification and reporting.”
The OSDH is working to address the issue by collaborating with health care providers and community partners to engage in education, partnership and planning. The SHHR Service is hosting a call to action for providers, Nov. 8, at the Nicholson Conference Center on the University of Oklahoma Medical Center campus. To register for the event, providers can visit https://addressingcongenitalsyphilis.eventbrite.com
A person can have syphilis and not have any signs or symptoms. Symptoms may also be very mild or may be mistaken for symptoms of other illnesses. The only way to know for sure if someone is infected is through testing. It is important for everyone to include testing for sexually transmitted diseases as a part of their routine health care. This doesn’t only apply to pregnant women and their babies. It’s important for their sexual partner to be tested and treated as well.
Prenatal care is a key component to the overall health and wellness of a mother and her unborn child. The sooner a woman begins receiving medical care during pregnancy, the better the health outcomes for her and the unborn baby. Anyone wishing to be tested for syphilis or any other sexually transmitted infection should contact a health care provider or a local county health department.
For further information about diagnosing or treating syphilis, contact the SHHR Service at (405) 271-4636.
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