As of twenty years ago, incredibly low prevalence rates made concern for congenital syphilis in California obsolete. However, in the past six years, the number of syphilis cases in California has augmented exponentially, jumping from 33 to 283 cases and wreaking havoc upon California’s most vulnerable: at risk mothers and their newborn children. Due to syphilis’s ability to pass through the placental wall during pregnancy, an ever-increasing number of children are suffering from meningitis, anemia, organ deformation, pneumonia and neurological deficits. Approximately thirty stillborn babies in the past year were found to be infected with syphilis– the highest number of infant mortalities attributed to syphilis since 1995. Such statistics are incongruent with California’s extensive health care system, especially since the horrific consequences of syphilis can be prevented by a single antibiotic shot. High levels of poverty, homelessness and substance abuse have been reliably linked to increased reports of syphilis cases.
Although California law mandates that pregnant women receive mandatory screening for syphilis during the course of their prenatal care, this service is often not accessible to homeless women. Although the state reaches out to at-risk women encouraging prenatal STD testing, this approach is incompatible with the breadth of the problem. To truly address the large deficit in reproductive health care, the state’s initiative must not only address access to testing, but also ensure access to consistent and reliable treatment.