Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Rapid Rise in Syphilis Hits Native Americans in the Southwest Hardest

From her base in Gallup, New Mexico, Melissa Wyaco supervises about two dozen public health nurses who crisscross the sprawling Navajo Nation searching for patients who have tested positive for or been exposed to a disease once nearly eradicated in the U.S .: syphilis.

Infection rates in this region of the Southwest - the 27,000-square-mile reservation encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah - are among the nation's highest. And they're far worse than anything Wyaco, who is from Zuni Pueblo (about 40 miles south of Gallup) and is the nurse consultant for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, has seen in her 30-year nursing career.

Syphilis infections nationwide have climbed rapidly in recent years, reaching a 70-year high in 2022, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That rise comes amid a shortage of penicillin, the most effective treatment. Simultaneously, congenital syphilis - syphilis passed from a pregnant person to a baby - has similarly spun out of control. Untreated, congenital syphilis can cause bone deformities, severe anemia, jaundice, meningitis, and even death. In 2022, the CDC recorded 231 stillbirths and 51 infant deaths caused by syphilis, out of 3,761 congenital syphilis cases reported that year.


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