Health Care

Doctors find more STDs in Kansas babies as syphilis cases are on the rise, KDHE warns

As sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise nationwide and in Kansas, state health officials warn of an increase in congenital syphilis — an infection that can lead to newborn deaths.

The number of syphilis cases has more than doubled in the past five years, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a news release. The increase includes more cases of the STD among young women, leading to more cases in newborn babies.

There were 495 cases of syphilis in Kansas in 2018, or a 148 percent increase from the 200 cases reported in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eight cases of congenital syphilis — passed from mother to baby during pregnancy — were reported in Kansas in 2018. Over the previous four years, only one case was reported.

“A baby that is born infected with syphilis may become developmentally delayed, have seizures, or die if the infection is not detected and treated during the mother’s pregnancy,” said Dr. Lee Norman, the KDHE secretary, in a statement.

“Untreated syphilis in pregnant women results in infant death in up to 40 percent of cases, so all pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at the first prenatal visit, and we recommend that the syphilis screening test should be repeated at the beginning of the third trimester (28 to 32 weeks gestation) and again at delivery,” Norman said.

Nationwide, 94 babies died last year due to syphilis, said Dr. Gail Bolan of the CDC’s STD prevention division in a letter to the health care community.

“Every single instance of congenital syphilis is one too many when we have the tools to prevent it,” Bolan said.

Other sexually transmitted diseases also are increasing in Kansas, according to CDC numbers released Tuesday.

The 5,256 cases of gonorrhea was an increase of 105 percent from 2,568 cases reported five years ago. The 14,231 cases of chlamydia in 2018 was a 28 percent increase from 11,116 cases reported in 2014.

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