The number of documented syphilis cases in Kansas nearly tripled during the past five years to deepen the health risks faced by newborns, state health officials said Tuesday.
The finding contained in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report on sexually transmitted diseases showed Kansas ranked 15th in the nation in terms of the number of babies born with syphilis. The number of child cases reflected an increase in syphilis among young women and a trend since 2012 of an increase in sexually transmitted infection in Kansas.
"A baby that is born infected with syphilis may become developmentally delayed, have seizures or die if the infection is not detected and treated during the mother’s pregnancy," said Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Norman, who is a physician, said KDHE recommended all health care providers have an "honest and nonjudgmental talk" with patients about their sexual history. Counseling should be provided to those at risk, he said, and contraceptive counseling should be provided to those at risk of unintended pregnancy.
He said untreated syphilis in pregnant women resulted in infant death in up to 40% of cases. All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at the first prenatal visit, the beginning of the third trimester and at delivery, he said.
He said babies born to mothers who tested positive for syphilis during pregnancy should be screened for the infection and examined for evidence of congenital syphilis. Any woman who delivers a stillborn infant after 20 weeks of pregnancy should also be tested.
Nationally, the CDC reported, the number of children with congenital syphilis reached its highest level in more than 20 years at 33.1 for every 100,000 people. In 2018, the report said, Texas led the nation with a rate of 92.2, followed by No. 11 Oklahoma and Missouri, both 22.8; No. 15 Kansas at 21; and No. 27 Colorado at 10.5.
Symptoms of syphilis in adults includes painless lesions, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, patchy hair loss and skin rash. Untreated, the illness could be fatal or cause damage to joints, bones, the brain, eyes, blood vessels, liver and nerves.
In terms of other sexually transmitted diseases, Kansas ranked 30th in the rate of chlamydia at 488 per 100,000 and 22nd with incidence of gonorrhea at 180.4 per 100,000 during 2018.