Black Voices

Syphilis Cases in Babies on the Rise in Chicago, Health Department Says


Syphilis Cases in Babies on the Rise in Chicago, Health Department Says

Rates of congenital syphilis are on the rise in Chicago.

The Chicago Department of Public Health said there were 13 cases in 2018, compared to 2022 when there were 46 cases — a 254% increase.

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And between 2020 and 2022, 86% of cases in the city were among Black Chicagoans.

It’s part of a nationwide increase in congenital infections, passed along to an infant during pregnancy. If undiagnosed, the baby can be born with a number of health issues, including cataracts, deafness and a low birth weight, or can even be stillborn.

Dr. Marcelo Venegas is the regional medical director for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Northern Bureau. He said poor access to health care is driving the increase.

“We’re looking at social determinants of health,” Venegas said. “Poor access to prenatal care is one of the most important reasons and risk factors. Social vulnerabilities such as homelessness, substance abuse, incarceration … disproportionately affect people of color.”

Pregnant women should be screened not only at the beginning of their pregnancy but also if they begin to see symptoms such as a rash on their hands or feet. Venegas said the infection can go without symptoms and that transmission can happen at any time, so testing throughout pregnancy is important.


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