Data Sharing Can Reverse a Health Crisis

A deeper look at the congenital syphilis situation in San Bernardino County

Congenital syphilis (CS), a preventable and potentially devastating disease passed during pregnancy, is increasing at an alarming pace in California and nationwide. If a pregnant mother diagnosed with syphilis does not receive timely treatment, the impact of CS on the baby can be severe, ranging from prematurity and brain and nerve problems to stillbirth or death. There has been a seven-fold increase in cases of CS nationally between 2012 and 2021. In 2018, the state case rate of 68.2 per 100,000 live births in California was already more than double that of the U.S. case rate.

In 2018, the California Department of Public Health launched an effort across the state to eliminate CS in 3 years. However, the program struggled, facing a lack of investment in public health system funding over the years and a slowly eroding health infrastructure. Those challenges were further exacerbated by limited access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. But if nothing else, the pandemic illuminated the consequences of our public health negligence, as well as opportunities to harness new technologies and innovations.

In the largest geographic county in the U.S., San Bernardino County in California, we have a ray of hope. In 2019, the county had double the incidence rate of California overall and more than four times the incidence rate in the U.S. Here we look at a case study for how using health information exchange data in a proactive and insightful way can help counties prevent CS and create a safe and thriving environment for pregnant mothers and their babies, especially women with barriers to accessing regular care.

Read the article by Mimi Hall, Vice President of Public Health Innovation, Manifest MedEx, and Josh Dugas, Director, San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, published in MedPage Today.