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Syphillis cases in newborns increased steeply in Michigan last year

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42 newborns were born with congenital syphillis in Michigan in 2021. The condition can cause serious disabilities and death.

42 infants in Michigan were born with congenital syphillis in 2021, based on preliminary data. That's a startling increase from the year before, when 29 such cases were diagnosed.

In 2019, prior to the pandemic, 16 newborns in the state were diagnosed with congenital syphillis.

Congenital syphillis can cause a range of severe health impacts for the infant, including blindness and other disabilities. Nearly two out of five die from the infection. But it is preventable and treatable if caught in time.

Michigan health care officials say every case "represents a health care system failure."

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian is Michigan's Chief Medical Executive. She said many women lost regular contact with health care providers during the pandemic.

"People really were not seeking care in the same ways that they were doing pre-pandemic, for things like routine health care screenings, routine blood work, routine vaccinations and STI (sexually transmitted infections) screening tests as well."

Bagdasarian said she hopes now, with COVID-19 cases down, people will seek the medical treatment they need. She said county health care departments are reaching out to try to get more people screened for STIs.

Syphillis among Michigan adults also rose dramatically during the pandemic. 978 cases of syphillis in the primary and secondary stages were reported in 2021. That's a 25% increase from the year before. 685 P&S syphillis cases were reported in 2019.

The long-term trend for syphillis in Michigan is also troubling. Rates have doubled since 2012.

Other STIs have also been increasing over time. Rates of gonorrrhea declined slightly in 2021, but have increased 75% since 2010.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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