Posted on February 17, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Friday, Feb 17 at 10:13 AM
SAN ANTONIO -- It’s a public health threat that experts say can be prevented with more testing: babies born with syphilis.
Newborns are the tiniest, most vulnerable members of our community. Some of the babies in San Antonio face an unseen threat that changes the course of their lives before they’re even born. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease the mother can pass to the infant.
“So many of these babies die,” said San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director of Public Health Dr. Thomas Schlenker, MD, MPH. “And many of them that survive have lifelong, very serious disabilities.”
The problems can include short bones, low birth weight, blindness or even stillbirth.
As recently as 2004, Bexar County recorded only one case of a baby born with syphilis. But in 2008, there were 11. Then 12 in 2009 and another 11 in 2010.
“That’s very disturbing,” Schlenker stated. “Ten babies a year being born with syphilis. There’s just no excuse for that in the United States. There should be none. There should be zero.”
Schlenker believes more testing is key. Law requires first trimester testing, but some women are infected with the microbe later than that.
The CDC recommends third trimester screening for syphilis. A simple blood test can yield results in a few hours.
Incredibly, one single shot of penicillin is all it takes to wipe out the syphilis and take away the threat to the baby.
“It just should not be happening,” Schlenker added.
Schlenker has sent a letter to all local physicians spelling out the frightening trend and asking doctors to help in the fight against a killer.
“Every pregnant woman should be tested at least twice in Texas,” he explained, “at the first prenatal visit and then again in the third trimester. That’s not happening.”
Schlenker called the rising rate of babies born with syphilis in San Antonio an “unfolding tragedy.” With the help of local doctors, he would like to see the rate brought down to where it should be…zero.