Fewer babies born with syphilis in Louisiana, more across US


This 1972 microscope image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a Treponema pallidum bacterium which causes the disease syphilis. A report released on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, says that newborn syphilis infections are surging to the highest level in 20 years. (Susan Lindsley/CDC via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The number of babies born with syphilis in Louisiana fell 22% last year, while national numbers rose 40%.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 46 fewer cases of congenital syphilis in Louisiana last year, down 13 from 2017. Nationally, more than 1,300 babies were born with the disease, up from 935 a year earlier.

Congenital syphilis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and severe lifelong physical and neurological problems.

The rate of that disease was one of three areas where Louisiana’s rankings improved a bit compared with other states as the nation’s combined cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia reached an all-time high.

Louisiana is still among the top 10 in all four rankings: congenital syphilis, the most infectious stages of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. But state health officials say the drops show prevention work is paying off.

Medicaid expansion, education programs, and individual reviews of each case of congenital syphilis, with an eye to identifying what factors led to each, have helped bring that case total down, said Dr. Alexander Billioux, assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health

The state’s congenital syphilis numbers have alternated increasing and decreasing for the past five years. Two programs started this year — home treatment for pregnant women with syphilis and their partners, and doctors getting the form of penicillin used to treat syphilis — should help the drop in cases continue, Billioux said.

Both programs were designed in response to the case reviews, he said.

Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the most commonly reported sexually transmitted diseases. There were 1.76 million cases of chlamydia reported to the CDC in 2018, up 50,000; 583,400 of gonorrhea, up 28,000; and 115,000 of all stages of syphilis, up nearly 13,400.

The CDC figures show that Louisiana had 1,500 more chlamydia cases in 2018 than in 2017, with fairly stable numbers for gonorrhea and the most infectious stages of syphilis, called primary and secondary syphilis. Chlamydia cases increased about 4.4%. Gonorrhea cases were up 26, or 0.2% and those of the most infectious stages of syphilis down 10, or about 1.5%.

“I would say when it comes to syphilis, we are seeing a decrease — a modest decrease. But if you look at a modest downturn while others are going up, it’s a tremendous win,” Billioux said.

The last time Louisiana had congenital syphilis numbers this low was 2014. The totals were 54 in 2015 and 48 in 2016.

In 2017, Louisiana led the nation in its rate of congenital syphilis cases, with 93.4 cases for every 100,000 live births. This year’s rate of 72.8 per 100,000 live births brought it down to No. 3.

Its rates for primary and secondary syphilis, the most infectious stages, dropped Louisiana’s ranking from No. 3 to No. 7 in that category, and the case rates for gonorrhea brought that ranking down from third to fifth. Its chlamydia rate remained the nation’s second-highest.

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