STD Awareness: The Syphilis Outbreak’s Youngest Victims

Arizona is officially in the midst of a syphilis outbreak that in 2018 claimed the lives of 10 infants. That’s the most babies to die of congenital syphilis in the state’s recent history. In addition to the 10 deaths, another 43 babies were born with syphilis, which can cause severe health problems.

The word “congenital” simply means the baby was born with syphilis after acquiring the infection in the womb. The bacteria that cause syphilis can cross the placenta to reach the fetus — and will do so in 80 percent of pregnancies in which syphilis is untreated. As many as 40 percent of babies infected with syphilis during pregnancy will be stillborn or will die soon after birth. The condition can also cause rashes, bone deformities, severe anemia, jaundice, blindness, and deafness. The good news is that congenital syphilis is almost completely preventable. When it is administered at the appropriate time and at the correct dosage, penicillin is 98 percent effective.


Prenatal care must include screening for syphilis, which can be cured with penicillin but can be deadly if not treated.


Syphilis used to be the most feared STD out there, but rates have been plunging since the discovery of effective antibiotics during the first half of the 20th century. By 2000, syphilis rates hit an all-time low, and many health experts thought the United States was at the dawn of the complete elimination of the disease. But it’s been making a comeback, and between 2013 and 2017 nationwide congenital syphilis rates more than doubled, with the number of affected babies at a 20-year high.

Areas in the southern and western United States have been especially hard hit. Arizona has the sixth-highest congenital syphilis rate in the country, after Louisiana, Nevada, California, Texas, and Florida. Our congenital syphilis rate doubled between 2016 and 2017 — in terms of sheer numbers, most of these cases originated in Maricopa County, but officials say it’s disproportionately affecting rural areas. Gila County, which is east of Phoenix and home to the old mining town Globe, has the highest syphilis rate in the state. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Carmen Casillas for State Representative, LD 8

The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the general election, you must register to vote by October 6 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2014!

Legislative District 8 is geographically expansive, ranging from just north of Maricopa northeast past Globe and south as far as San Manuel. It includes all of Globe, Florence, and Coolidge, parts of Casa Grande, and many smaller communities. By making education, jobs and the economy, public safety, and comprehensive immigration reform cornerstones of her campaign — and by knocking on plenty of doors — Carmen Casillas seeks to represent this district in the Arizona House of Representatives.

She took time out from canvassing on September 19 to participate in the telephone interview transcribed below.


“Everyone, it doesn’t matter — color, race, creed, religion, sexuality — everyone should be treated equally and with respect.”


Tell us a little about your background.

I am a mother of three — I just lost my son, 36 years old, on August 2 — a grandmother of nine, and a great-grandmother of one. And I’m very proud of all of them. I am born and raised here in Globe, Arizona, and I’ve tried to improve the quality of life here. Hopefully, I did.

I was a past vice mayor for two years and past councilwoman for four years with the city of Globe. I am the founder and CEO of the DVVA Response Team, an acronym that stands for the Domestic Violence Victims’ Advocate Response Team. This program was started from scratch and ran for a period of 10 years. I am co-founder of the Boys and Girls Club here in Globe. I am co-founder of Gila House; that is a program for families who have been burnt out or are in the process of a foreclosure that is not due to their own making. And now we are moving into helping members of the homeless population who have passed drug tests and background screenings. I am a strong leader in my community. Continue reading