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Oklahoma lawmakers consider measure to increase syphilis screening for pregnant patients

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The rate of babies born with syphilus is on the rise. Oklahoma lawmakers are looking to combat that.

Oklahoma has seen its rate of congenital syphilis soar. Now, lawmakers are considering a bill that could get those babies help before they’re born.

For decades, syphilis seemed all but eradicated. But ten years ago, new cases started to skyrocket. That included cases in newborns, who contract the bacterial infection while passing through the birth canal.

The CDC estimates that from 2016 to 2020, the rate of babies born with syphilis in Oklahoma went up by nearly 2,000 percent. Back in 2016, congenital syphilis was rare. And by 2020, Oklahoma ranked 5th in the nation for babies born with the disease.

“Syphilis was under the radar for a long time, and so providers, we know they’re not really in the habit of assessing for the symptoms frequently or asking the right types of questions to see if someone was at risk for being exposed for it,” Ivonna Mims, the Sexual Health Nurse Manager for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, told StateImpact in 2020.

State law requires medical providers to test pregnant patients for syphilis once — at the beginning of the pregnancy. Public health and medical experts have been pushing for more screening throughout pregnancy.

Senate Bill 292, filed by Midwest City Senator Brenda Stanley, would up that requirement to three times in pregnancy, including right before delivery. The bill advanced out of the Senate Health Committee last week and needs to pass through the Appropriations Committee before it can advance to the Senate floor.

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Catherine Sweeney was StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter from 2020 to 2023.
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