Congenital Syphilis Cases Hit 20-Year Record High in US

Megan Brooks

September 26, 2018

Reported cases of congenital syphilis have more than doubled since 2013, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Reported cases of congenital syphilis jumped from 362 in 2013 to 918 in 2017, the highest number of recorded cases in 20 years, the CDC said. Congenital syphilis cases were reported in 37 states, primarily in Western and Southern states.

The increase in congenital syphilis mirrors similar increases in syphilis among women of reproductive age and outpaces national increases in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) overall, the CDC said.

"When passed to a baby, syphilis can result in miscarriage, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and mental health problems. No parent should have to bear the death of a child when it would have been prevented with a simple test and safe treatment," Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a news release.

One Test Not Enough for Some Women

Syphilis during pregnancy is easily cured with the right antibiotics. If left untreated, a pregnant woman with syphilis has up to an 80% chance of passing it on to her baby.

"To protect every baby, we have to start by protecting every mother. Early testing and prompt treatment to cure any infections are critical first steps, but too many women are falling through the cracks of the system. If we're going to reverse the resurgence of congenital syphilis that has to change," Gail Bolan, MD, director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention, said in the release.

According to the CDC, one in three women who gave birth to a baby with syphilis in 2016 were tested during pregnancy, but either acquired syphilis after that test or were not treated in time to cure the infection in the unborn baby.

The CDC recommends that all pregnant women be tested for syphilis at the first prenatal visit. But for many women, one test for syphilis may not be enough, the CDC said.  They recommend that women at high risk for syphilis or who live in high-prevalence areas be tested at the first prenatal visit and again early in the third trimester and at delivery.

As reported by Medscape Medical News, earlier this month the US Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmed its "A" recommendation that all pregnant women undergo early screening for syphilis and said women who have received no prenatal care should be tested for syphilis when they present for delivery.

The CDC said it is taking several steps to combat congenital syphilis, including ramping up support for "high burden" states to strengthen local prevention systems and improve their ability to identify and treat pregnant women with syphilis; researching factors behind the resurgence of congenital syphilis to guide prevention programs; and increasing awareness of congenital syphilis risk factors among pregnant women through partnerships with community organizations like the March of Dimes.

CDC. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. Published online September 25, 2018. Report

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