ST. LOUIS – Health officials are urging people to get tested for syphilis after a spike in cases around St. Louis and Missouri in recent years.
St. Louis city and county health officials are urging people to get tested for syphilis if they are sexually active or considering pregnancy. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that could lead to serious complications if untreated. While syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics, health leaders say many cases go undiagnosed and untreated.
“A single case of congenital syphilis is heartbreaking because it is completely preventable,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, Acting Director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. “Given the high rates of syphilis in the St. Louis region, I urge all those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy to get themselves and their partners tested immediately.”
The St. Louis County Health Department reports a spike in syphilis and congenital syphilis cases over the past five years. In 2021, there were 11 cases of congenital syphilis in St. Louis County and 11 cases in St. Louis City. Compared to 2017, the county had only three such cases, and the city had one case.
Syphilis cases are also on the rise statewide. New data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services shows that from 2015 to 2021, the number of syphilis cases in statewide increased by 259 percent. Missouri reported 63 congenital syphilis cases reported in 2021, the state’s highest total since 1994.
“Our goal is to have zero new cases of congenital syphilis in St. Louis – not even one,” said Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, the Director of the St. Louis City Department of Health. “The rates of syphilis among women of childbearing age are rising faster than any other group – and this has led to the unfortunate rise in congenital syphilis as well.”
Congenital syphilis can cause miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths, or deaths of newborn babies. Those babies can experience serious health complications, including physical and neurological disabilities.
Nebu Kolenchery, the director of communicable disease response for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said not getting prenatal care is the biggest contributor to congenital syphilis.
“So, if you’re looking to get pregnant, if you are pregnant, please go see a doctor and ensure that they screen you for syphilis,” said Kolenchery. “The CDC guidelines, particularly in an area where there are high rates of syphilis are to get screened three times. The first is your first prenatal care visit. The second is 28 weeks of pregnancy, and the third is at delivery.”
Syphilis testing and treatment are available for free or at low cost in various locations around St. Louis City and St. Louis County. For more information about services in the city, click here. For more information about services in the county, click here.