Syphilis, once considered an eliminable STI, is spiking in Iowa
Syphilis is on the rise in Iowa, along with several other sexually transmitted infections, according to 2021 case counts from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
- But one of the most alarming numbers is 2021's spike in congenital syphilis, which is passed to a fetus during pregnancy.
Driving the news: Iowa recorded 11 cases of congenital syphilis in 2021.
- In comparison, there have only been 10 total cases of congenital syphilis in the last 15 years.
Why it matters: It's a sign that health resources and education aren't reaching some of the populations that need them the most, said George Walton of IDPH.
- Especially for the 11 pregnant women affected, regular prenatal screenings should have detected syphilis before it passed on to their babies.
- About 40% of infants born from a mom with untreated syphilis are stillborn or quickly die from the infection, the CDC reports.
Context: Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted infection that can be easily cured with antibiotics, but can become serious if left untreated.
- In 1999, the transmission rates of it were so low that the CDC believed the U.S. could entirely eliminate infections in the country.
Yes, but: There wasn't enough funding to expand federal programming to eliminate it. Infections gradually increased, starting with gay men, NPR reports.
- In more recent years, cases have spread to a wider range of people, including women and members of Latino and Hispanic communities.
Zoom in: Because so many agencies and medical professionals think syphilis is gone, there's decreased testing and prevention in Iowa, Walton said.
- Last year, however, the White House announced it was granting $1.13 billion for disease intervention specialists. IDPH plans on using the state's portion of the funds to hire and train more staff to help raise STI awareness.
What they're saying: Experts say the biggest thing people can do right now is not feel shame about STD and STI testing and reduce the stigma surrounding it.
- "STI's can affect anybody," Walton said. "It doesn't matter if you've had one sexual parter or a dozen."
Get tested: Low-cost STD and STI testing is available at the Polk County Health Department.
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