Date: Sun 19 May 2019
Source: Nation Multimedia [edited]
As many as 249 babies were born with syphilis in Thailand this year , according to the Public Health Ministry. "The babies were affected because their mothers were infected," the ministry's permanent secretary, Dr Sukhum Karnchanapimai, said yesterday [18 May 2019].
Sukhum said that between 1 Jan and 13 May 2019, 3080 people of all ages were diagnosed with syphilis. Of them, 40.42 per cent are between 15 and 24 years old. Some 24.48 per cent of others are between 25 and 34 years old. "The number of syphilis patients is rising. The increase reflects that many teenagers and people in the reproductive age group have engaged in unsafe sex," he said.
Sukhum said he has instructed provincial public-health chiefs to closely monitor the situation and to prevent the disease from spreading. He urged people to protect themselves by using condoms, refraining from having several sex partners, and regularly undergoing blood tests. "Pregnant women, along with their husbands, should take blood tests too," he said.
[Thailand was said to have eliminated congenital syphilis by the WHO just a few years ago (2016) (See Sidibe M, Singh PK below.) Thailand thus joins the countries that now report a rise in incidence of congenital syphilis. In the U.S., for example, after syphilis reached historic lows in 2000, with less than 6000 reported cases and an incidence rate of only 2.1 cases per 100 000 people, the United States has since experienced a rising incidence of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis (<https://www.cdc.gov/std/sam/2017syphilis.htm
>). Initially, during 2000-2015, the rise in the rate of reported P&S syphilis in the US was primarily attributable to increased cases among men, specifically among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). More recently, syphilis also increased among women. For example, during 2014-2015, the rate increased 18.1 percent among men, but increased 27.3 percent among women (<http://www.loopcayman.com/content/syphilis-cases-increase-1
Transmission of _Treponema pallidum_, the organism that causes of syphilis, to the fetus occurs via the bloodstream when the foetus is exposed in utero to a mother with untreated early syphilis. Transmission may also occur during delivery if maternal genital lesions are present. Late abortion, stillbirth, and neonatal death may result from congenital infection in untreated pregnancies. Among survivors, manifestations that develop in the 1st 2 years of life are called "early" and are similar to adult secondary syphilis; manifestations that develop after age 2 years are called "late" and include tooth abnormalities (Hutchinson teeth), bone changes (saber shins), "Clutton's joints" (bilateral painless swelling of the knee joints), neurological involvement, blindness, and deafness.
We are not told in the news report above about the factors responsible for the changing epidemiology of syphilis in Thailand, which could account for their increasing incidence of congenital syphilis. In the U.S. and Canada, the recent increasing incidence of syphilis in heterosexual men and women has been linked to illicit drug use, which is reminiscent of the increase in syphilis among heterosexuals during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, when the practice of trading sex with multiple partners for drugs, especially crack cocaine, played a major role in the transmission of syphilis. Under these circumstances, the identities of sex partners are often unknown, which weakens the traditional syphilis-control strategy of partner notification.
Control of congenital syphilis is achieved by antenatal screening and treatment of mothers who are infected. Routine serologic screening should be done at the 1st prenatal visit in all pregnant women and in communities and populations in which the risk for congenital syphilis is high; serologic testing and a sexual history also should be obtained at 28 weeks gestation and at delivery. Groups at high risk include uninsured women, women living in poverty, sex workers, illicit drug users, women diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases, and those living in communities with high syphilis morbidity (<http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf09/syphilis/syphpgsum.htm
>). No mother or neonate should leave the hospital without maternal serologic status having been documented at least once during pregnancy and, if the mother is considered high risk, also at delivery.
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