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Uptick in Colorado syphilis cases impacts newborn babies

Colo. (KRDO) -- State health officials met Thursday to discuss an uptick in syphilis cases across the state, including some areas right here in southern Colorado. Their main concern is a rise in congenital syphilis cases which has led to more infant deaths.

Governor Polis, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, Colorado health officials, and other state agencies met in Denver Thursday to talk over "comprehensive plans to address the alarming rise in syphilis and congenital syphilis cases across Colorado."

El Paso County Public Health data obtained by KRDO reveals the number of syphilis cases in the area has consistently increased over the last four years, more than doubling since 2019. The county health department reported 130 cases in 2019 and 264 in 2023.

Congenital syphilis occurs when a mother passes the disease down to her baby which can lead to the infant's death or lifelong health impacts.

In terms of congenital syphilis cases, El Paso County has gone back and forth from zero cases to, at most, four cases since 2019 until last year. in 2023 the county reported nine cases of congenital syphilis.

Pueblo County saw an even more drastic increase in cases from 2019 to 2022, but reported a decrease in syphilis, and specifically congenital syphilis, in 2023. Public health officials say it's due to a new program targeting "at risk" populations including young women in local jails and prisons.

"They’re very appreciative that we're in there," explained Pueblo County Public Health nurse Corrie Westwood. "We're usually the first person that even offers them any healthcare or any treatment of any kind."

Westwood told us it's clear the program is working in Pueblo County, so now they're hoping to help other areas.

“[We're] just continuing to expand it throughout – not just Southern Colorado which is very needed – but all of Colorado," she said. "And, it’s nationwide so we need to all be on the same page here."

In addition to the work Pueblo County has already begun, the state decided today it will soon create an after-hours phone line with resources for people infected with syphilis. The state also plans to increase protocols and require syphilis testing for every pregnant woman who enters a Department of Corrections facility. Right now it's uncertain when these efforts will be set in motion.

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Julia Donovan


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