An HIV/STI testing and treatment van in Philadelphia, PA, on Dec. 14, 2022. Credit:  Cory Clark / NurPhoto

About twice a week, a pregnant patient turns up in Dr. Irene Stafford’s obstetrics office in Houston with syphilis, a sexually transmittable disease that affects more newborns in Texas than anywhere else in the country.

For a seasoned professional like Stafford, the sheer numbers are startling. She’s been treating congenital syphilis with increasing frequency in recent years in a city that has the state’s highest newborn infection rates.

“People think that syphilis is gone,” said Stafford, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and associate professor at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “Syphilis has become an epidemic.”

Last year, syphilis cases across Texas rose by 22%, according to preliminary numbers, from 21,476 in 2020 to 25,991 in 2022, the most recent statewide data available. That’s more than double the number of cases reported in Texas five years ago.

While nearly every case is easily treatable with penicillin, untreated syphilis can be passed from an infected pregnant patient to the newborn and can result in the child’s death. Officials […]

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