May 3rd, 2011 | Published in Syphilis Management
In recent years, U.S. syphilis rates have climbed among men and women alike; but the disease’s presence is by no means limited to the U.S. alone. Syphilis, pronounced, commonly misspelled sifilis, syphillis, or siphilis, has become increasingly prevalent in China, with one baby born with syphilis infection every hour.
Syphilis in Newborns
Though easily curable via antibiotics, syphilis can cause severe damage in adults over time if left untreated. In newborns, however, the disease can produce immediate health-related consequences. About 25 percent of babies born with syphilis worldwide are underweight, and in newborns with fragile immune systems, the disease can cause neurological problems, physical deformities, deafness, and even death. As STD testing for syphilis isn’t mandatory for pregnant women in China, the rate of transmission from mother to child climbed rapidly from 7 cases per 100,000 births in 2003 to 57 cases per 100,000 births in 2008.
What’s Causing Syphilis in Chinese Newborns?
An increase in prostitution across the country has contributed to the problem of syphilis in newborns, as has a rise in gay and bisexual practices among men, many of whom are married. The rapid economic growth experienced in China over the past number of years has resulted in additional disposable income for many, which, as evidenced by recent syphilis infection rates, is often used to finance unsafe sexual practices. In fact, syphilis is now the most frequently reported STD in Shanghai, China’s largest city.
Syphilis in the U.S.
Syphilis rates in the U.S. are highest among men who have with other men. This at-risk group represents almost two-thirds of all new annual syphilis cases. However, the CDC has also observed an increase in transmission rates from mothers to their newborn children. In 2008, 10 cases of syphilis infection per 100,000 births were documented, whereas in 2005, only 8 babies per 100,000 were born with syphilis. This increase in newborn syphilis cases comes in spite of strict STD testing guidelines. In fact, most U.S. states require that an STD test for syphilis be administered to all pregnant women.
Preventing Syphilis in the U.S. and Abroad
As the disease is often asymptomatic, the only effective way to detect syphilis infection is to undergo STD testing. Whereas U.S. residents have numerous testing resources at their disposal, including online syphilis and STD testing, nations like China lack public health programs designed to combat STDs on a whole. In China, STD testing and prevention efforts in recent years have focused primarily on HIV and AIDS. As a result, syphilis continues to impact the Chinese population significantly, including its newest and most vulnerable members.