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Houston announces Syphilis outbreak, 128 percent rise in cases among women

The city of Houston is experiencing a syphilis outbreak, with health officials reporting a 128 percent rise in cases, most of which are linked to pregnant women.

The Houston Health Department on Thursday announced the outbreak, reporting a nine-fold rise in congenital syphilis in Houston and Harris County.

According to health experts, syphilis cases rose from 1,845 in 2019 to 2,905 in 2022, which amounts to around 57 percent. Among women, cases have risen 128 percent, which authorities attribute to pregnant women passing the bacterial infection to their babies.

“It is crucial for pregnant women to seek prenatal care and syphilis testing to protect themselves from an infection that could result in the deaths of their babies,” Marlene McNeese Ward, deputy assistant director in the department’s Bureau of HIV/STI and Viral Hepatitis Prevention, said in the health department’s press release. “A pregnant woman needs to get tested for syphilis three times during her pregnancy.”

As a result of the rise in syphilis cases, the Houston Health Department is waiving clinical fees for people to get tested in an effort to combat the outbreak immediately. In addition, the city plans to expand the use of its HIV/STD mobile clinic, while also working with community leaders to bring more awareness around syphilis and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

“Testing is recommended at a woman’s first prenatal visit, during the third trimester and at delivery,” the health department noted. “Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can result in a stillbirth or a baby’s death soon after birth.”



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