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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico health officials are renewing a public order aimed at protecting newborn babies from syphilis.

The state Health Department on Wednesday announced requirements that medical providers follow best practices by testing all pregnant women for syphilis multiple times.

The agency says that New Mexico had the highest rate of congenital syphilis cases among states in 2020, when there were 42 local cases of newborn babies contracting the disease from their mothers. That is the most recent year for finalized federal statistics.

Syphilis is a bacterial disease that surfaces as genital sores but can ultimately lead to severe symptoms and death if left untreated. When a mother passes the infection on to her baby, it can lead to serious birth defects, miscarriage and infant death.

State Health Secretary David Scrase says congenital syphilis is preventable through testing and treatment with penicillin to prevent transmission.

Sharply rising cases of some sexually transmitted diseases — including a 26% rise in new syphilis infections reported last year — are prompting U.S. health officials to call for new prevention and treatment efforts.

Scrase said the Health Department will seek new legislation that aligns local syphilis testing for pregnant women with guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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