Mississippi now requires physicians to test patients for syphilis during pregnancy as a response to the alarming rate in the state of children being born with the infection, according to a recently issued emergency order.
Mississippi was one of six states that did not require syphilis screenings by law. Meanwhile, the state in six years ending in 2021 had more than a 900% increase in babies born with syphilis – a sexually transmitted disease that can be passed to an infant during pregnancy and lead to developmental issues and sometimes death.
On Wednesday, the Mississippi Board of Health issued a 120-day emergency order with plans to permanently change testing rules in the state during that period. The board will vote on those rule changes during their July meeting.
“This is a winnable battle for us,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers told the Board of Health during Wednesday’s meeting. “We have seen a lot of ups and downs with syphilis over the years … we have shown before we can make an impact on the rates of syphilis.”
The state’s order calls for physicians and practitioners offering prenatal care to test all pregnancies during the first trimester or during the first prenatal appointment and again in the third trimester and during delivery to ensure treatment for positive cases follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and that cases found during pregnancy are reported to the state Department of Health.
Byers said the repeated testing is to ensure “we’re not letting a case that can be treated … slip through the cracks.”
Without mandatory screenings, some mothers are shocked to learn they have the disease. Even if they don’t have symptoms, the infection can still detrimentally affect their child.
Penicillin treatments in the first trimester for someone with syphilis leads to the most positive outcome for the child at birth. Untreated, babies can be born with life-long complications and major malformations.