There were 29 babies born in Maryland last year with the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. The rate of infant infection was the country’s ninth worst.
The “tragic” figures were among a host of data about STDs alarming experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently released the numbers. There were record numbers of cases recorded in all of the three most common STDs: syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
In many cases, such as congenital syphilis found in newborns, Maryland’s rates were worse than the nation as a whole.
“STDs can come at a high cost for babies and other vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, in a statement. “Curbing STDs will improve the overall health of the nation and prevent infertility, HIV and infant deaths.”
Babies born with syphilis who don’t die are at risk for lifelong physical and neurological problems.
The diseases in adults are generally treatable with antibiotics, if people know they are infected. But those who do not know they are infected can suffer consequences including infertility, pregnancy problems and increased HIV risk. They also risk passing STDs to others, including the fetuses of infected pregnant women.
Health officials say the infections are preventable. Studies suggest a number of reasons for the uptick nationally, including cuts to prevention programs, increased drug use and decreased condom use.
Like the national rates of infection, Maryland’s rates also were growing in many circumstances:
- The state’s congenital syphilis cases rose to 29 in 2018 — a rate of 39.7 per 100,000 people, the ninth-worst rate in the country.
- Syphilis in the most infectious stages among adults rose to 737 cases last year — a rate of 12.3 per 100,000 people, the nation’s 12th-worst rate.
- Chlamydia rose to 35,482 cases in 2018 — a rate of 586 cases per 100,000 people, the nation’s 12th-worst rate.
- Gonorrhea dropped to 10,305 cases last year — a rate of 170 per 100,000 people, the nation’s 24th-worst rate.
In each case, rates for the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson region were worse than those for the state overall, and higher than the average rate for the nation’s biggest metro areas.
Last year, there were 446 cases of syphilis, 17,466 cases of chlamydia and 5,998 cases of gonorrhea in the metro area.
Officials at the Baltimore City Health Department say they are monitoring the infection data in the city and state, which they called alarming but on par with national trends.
Officials say they are taking steps including offering testing and treatment services in city clinics, conducting outreach to the community and to providers on the need for testing and partnering with community groups on prevention and control efforts.
“Despite our best efforts, we believe more must be done, in partnership with our state and federal partners, to address the underlying causes for this upward trend, which include providing adequate public health funding, further investment in sexual and reproductive health education and an increased focus on stemming risky behaviors,” said D’Paul S. Nibber, a health department spokesman.