By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
November 30, 2023
Syphilis cases are skyrocketing in North Carolina, and some of the state’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens are paying the price for their parents’ poor decisions.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued an alert about the sexually transmitted disease this month, reporting a 574% increase in cases among women from 2012 to 2022 and calling on healthcare providers to step up their screening and treatment efforts to help reverse the trend.
The disease can cause miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight or death shortly after birth. NCDHHS reported five stillbirths or neonatal deaths in between January and September. Congenital syphilis, which occurs when mothers pass the infection to their babies, can cause bone deformities, severe anemia, blindness, deafness, meningitis and other health problems.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, says parents have a moral duty to protect their unborn children.
“When an STD is transmitted from an infected parent to an innocent baby, it is most often an unintended consequence of the parents’ actions. Nevertheless, this doesn’t remove culpability for the harm of a child,” he said. “Steps might be taken to limit the risks that come with sexual sin, but nothing is fool-proof but abstinence – obeying God’s word.”
Creech said that although the Scriptures do not specifically address STDs the way that they are dealt with in public health literature, the Bible does emphasize the importance of sexual purity and faithfulness within the confines of marriage.
“Sex outside of marriage is condemned throughout the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments,” Creech said. He pointed to the apostle Paul’s directive to “flee from sexual immorality,” in I Corinthians 6:18 and his warning in Romans 1:27 that shameful sexual behaviors can result in “due penalty” in participants. Creech said that penalty is a reference to “spiritual, moral, and physical consequences (STDs).”
“If someone engages in dangerous driving and causes an accident that harms innocent bystanders, that is rightly seen as reckless and morally wrong. In principle, transmitting an STD to an unborn child can similarly be viewed as reckless behavior which endangers a child,” he said.
A recent report based on Centers for Disease Control statistics from 2021 ranked North Carolina 10th among the 50 states for STDs, with a total rate of 922.2 per 100,000. The agency reported that across the nation 3,761 babies were born with syphilis last year. A decade ago, that number was just 335.
North Carolina health officials say part of the problem is a lack of prenatal care. A review of data on 2022 congenital syphilis cases shows 53% of mothers of babies born with syphilis had little to no healthcare prior to giving birth. Officials recommend that pregnant women be screened three times during their pregnancy, especially considering the fact that the infection can be present without initially causing symptoms. They also urge healthcare providers not to allow new mothers and babies to leave the hospital until the results of syphilis tests at delivery have been confirmed.
Doctors are also urged to offer syphilis screening to all sexually active people between the ages of 15 and 44 in counties with high rates of syphilis in women of reproductive age. (CDC rankings from 2021 show the highest rates in North Carolina to be in McDowell, Caldwell and Cleveland counties).
Creech said action can be taken even earlier, in the form of abstinence education.
“North Carolina public schools used to teach only abstinence in sex education classes, but when Obama was elected and Democrats had strong majorities in both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly, as well as a governor in the executive mansion, the law was changed, requiring public schools to teach both abstinence and comprehensive sex education. However, it has come to my attention that a lot of our public schools are not teaching abstinence but only comprehensive,” he said. He encouraged parents to check with their school districts to find out what is being taught, and/or to request to sit in on a class to see for themselves.