Fresno, Kern counties have highest rates of babies born with syphilis in California

Diana Aguilera is a multimedia reporter from Chile working for NPR’s member station Valley Public Radio in California’s San Joaquin Valley. She mostly focuses on health and minority community issues for the weekly radio news program “Valley Edition” as a project for the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Other stories in the series include:

Amid high STD rates, Fresno Unified considers the return of sex ed

HIV infections in Fresno County increase, especially among youth

Even in rural Fresno County, STDs remain a concern

California health officials are noticing a big jump in babies born with congenital syphilis and the Central Valley is at the top of the list. As FM89’s Diana Aguilera reports, state and county health leaders met in Fresno Wednesday to discuss the alarming trend.

Cases of congenital syphilis in California jumped from 30 in 2012 to 100 in 2014. Babies who contract the disease from their mothers during pregnancy can face lifelong health problems and even death.

Fresno and Kern Counties have the highest rates of babies born with syphilis in the state. Last year both counties saw an increase of over 300 percent.

“It is something we need to respond a lot quicker to and a lot more to,” says Joe Prado, with the Fresno County Department of Public Health. “And just learn more about it.”

Fresno County’s rate of congenital syphilis is seven times higher than the state rate and eight times higher the national average. Health leaders aren’t sure what’s triggering the spike. They say it may be linked to poverty, substance abuse and lack of access to health care.

Sarah Kidd is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re concerned anywhere where we see congenital syphilis but certainly the volume because of California’s population they’re contributing a large portion of cases in the U.S. so it’s a good place to focus.”

Officials say prenatal care is the most effective way to prevent infection among babies.

[This story was originally broadcasted by the Valley Public Radio.]