Arizona leads nation in newborn syphilis rates

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In 2021, Arizona led the nation for its rate of syphilis in newborns, and preliminary state data indicates the problem got worse last year. Stephanie Innes, of the Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com, joined Arizona Horizon to discuss the issue.

Arizona’s rate of babies born with syphilis in 2021 was nearly three times the national average, according to new data on sexually transmitted infections released this month by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data shows 187 babies were born with syphilis in Arizona last year, up from 181 in 2021.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection typically spread by sexual contact. People can have symptoms 10 to 90 days after infection. The symptoms can often mimic those of many other diseases: fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, hair loss and fatigue.

“There isn’t one single reason that you can cite for this. There are various reasons and some of them are intertwined,” Innes said.

However, a big reason can be attributed to drug use, according to Innes.

“As we know, fentanyl and methamphetamine use has increased, and what happens when people are using drugs, they are afraid that someone is going to take their baby away. And then there’s also the factor that using or misusing illicit drugs can impair your judgment as well, so you might not get prenatal care. That is really huge, because if you get prenatal care, you’re going to be tested for syphilis,” Innes said.

This problems is happening all over the country, but Arizona stood out because it had higher numbers. One thing to consider is that perhaps during COVID, STI investigators were assigned to COVID tracking. There is a stigma assigned to syphilis, so that may affect people’s want or need to be tested.

“Any population that has problems accessing health care is going to be at higher risk for an STI,” Innes said.

Innes also said that people in rural areas are at higher risk since they don’t always have access to testing or the prenatal care that’s needed. In some of these areas, there is talk about syphilis testing being brought to people in their own homes.

Stephanie Innes, the Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com

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