The number of babies in Mississippi being treated for congenital syphilis has jumped by more than 900% over five years, uprooting the progress the nation’s poorest state had made in nearly quashing what experts say is an avoidable public health crisis. The rise in cases has placed newborns at further risk of life-threatening harm in a state that’s already home to the nation’s worst infant mortality rate.
In 2021, 102 newborns in Mississippi were treated for the sexually transmitted disease, up from 10 in 2016, according to an analysis of hospital billing data shared by Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the medical director for the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Crossroads Clinic in Jackson, which focuses on sexually transmitted infections.
Dobbs, the state’s former health officer, said he’s spoken with health care providers who “are absolutely horrified” that babies are being born with the disease, and in rare instances dying from it.
“This seems like something that should have happened a hundred years ago, not last year,” said Dobbs, who is also a dean at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “There’s really kind of a shock.”
The Mississippi State Department of Health does not formally track congenital syphilis deaths but said there was at least one baby who died in 2021.