San Antonio syphilis epidemic in ninth year of continuous growth

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District presented today the latest data on the syphilis epidemic gripping San Antonio.  According to preliminary data, the total number of syphilis cases increased 15.2 percent in 2013, with 1,070 reported cases compared to 929 in 2012. The number of syphilis cases acquired within a year of diagnosis increased 14.4 percent, from 569 in 2012 to 651 in 2013.

By Erik Hans Krause, born 1899, artist. For WPA Federal Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThe rate of congenital syphilis in Bexar County in 2013 remains eight times higher than the 2012 national average and is the highest rate among the large urban areas in Texas. The number of congenital syphilis cases in 2013 went down from 18 to 17. When untreated, congenital syphilis, passes from the infected mother to the baby during pregnancy, causes life-long, incurable disabilities such as blindness, seizures, severe learning disabilities and is frequently fatal.

During 2013, seven babies with congenital syphilis were born in the Methodist Hospital system, seven in the Baptist Hospital system, and one each at UHS, Santa Rosa, and Southwest General Hospital.  The San Antonio Military Medical Center, a busy birthing hospital, has not had a congenital syphilis case in several years.

While the rate of congenital syphilis remains extremely high, in 2013 there were fewer teenage mothers giving birth to infected babies. There were also fewer stillborns. Minority women, however, continued to be the most affected. Hispanic and African-Americans comprised 94 percent of all women giving birth to congenital syphilis infants for the last two consecutive years.

By case managing pregnant women presenting for STD/HIV treatment, Metro Health prevented 34 cases of congenital syphilis in 2013.  

In 2013, the rate of primary and secondary syphilis infections in men was six fold that of women. The prevalence of primary and secondary syphilis in African-Americans was 3.3 times higher than in Hispanics and 2.7 times higher as compared to white, non-Hispanics.

“San Antonio’s syphilis epidemic is now in its ninth year of continuous growth.  The 17 babies born with congenital syphilis in 2013 are exceeded only by the 18 babies born in 2012.  Only a deeply committed collaboration between Metro Health and local health care practitioners can halt this terrible plague,” said Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of Metro Health. “Metro Health will apply new resources to reach high risk populations, will initiate mobile screening and treatment in the field, will offer school-based instruction and will case manage thru birth all pregnant women who present to the Metro Health STD Clinic.  In addition, we ask each of the 12 local birthing hospitals to document for 2013 what proportion of the women who delivered were tested for syphilis during their third trimester, to set improvement goals for 2014 and to implement a plan suitable for their institution to reach those goals.”