New 24/7 Hotline to Assist in Treatment for Infected Newborns
By Patrick McDaid

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio recently debuted a 24/7 telehealth help line to assist pediatric infectious disease specialists in treating neonatal illnesses, namely congenital syphilis, whose rates continue to rise in Texas. 

The Ongoing Care of Congenital and Perinatal Infections program, or OKAPI, is supported by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. It is free to all clinicians including physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, pharmacists, infection preventionists, administrators, and more. 

Common questions and topics of interest on the help line range from antibiotic use in newborns, infection control, and prevention for mothers and babies.  

OKAPI Director Joseph Cantey, MD, says most calls have been focused on congenital infections such as syphilis, hepatitis, and HIV. The pediatric infectious disease and neonatology specialist and TMA Committee on Infectious Diseases member adds the helpline has been extremely focused on stopping the spread of syphilis.  

“As we know, syphilis is a major issue all throughout Texas right now,” Dr. Cantey said. “It’s sparing nobody. All demographics and races are affected. I’d estimate one-third of our calls are syphilis-related, it’s extremely complicated to treat even for physicians in my specialty.”  

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, congenital syphilis cases have consistently risen over the last eight years. 

OKAPI aims to aid physicians in areas of Texas that haven’t commonly seen congenital illnesses. 

“While I may see 10 cases of congenital syphilis a week, [clinicians] in rural areas of Texas might not see one case a month. We hope to help familiarize those doctors and nurses who aren’t used to treating those types of diseases on a regular basis.” 

Many of the issues related to the uptick in syphilis cases come from lack of testing and treatment plans, says Dr. Cantey. 

“An issue we’re running into is unreliable tests for patients who may be infected and a shortage in penicillin production. That's the main focus.” 

For non-urgent questions, UT Health San Antonio has created a contact form, or reach the OKAPI helpline at (210) 880-9100 or through Dr. Cantey’s email

Last Updated On

February 23, 2024

Originally Published On

February 23, 2024

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Patrick McDaid

Patrick McDaid is a reporter for Texas Medicine Today and Texas Medicine. His prior work included local newspaper journalism in New Jersey after graduating from Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication in Philadelphia. A new resident to Texas after 25 years of Northeast living, Patrick is eager to explore the best coffee shops, sports game venues, and outdoor trails that Austin has to offer.

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