As syphilis cases among newborns surge in the U.S., a doctors group, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommends enhancing screening during pregnancy for this sexually transmitted disease, which can lead to severe health complications if not treated.

Syphilis gets sexually transmitted through syphilis sores during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also spread from an infected mother to her unborn child through the placenta, causing congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, and health issues such as cataracts, deafness, seizures, and damage to the heart, and can be life-threatening.

As per the updated recommendation from ACOG, pregnant individuals should be screened for syphilis three times during pregnancy. The initial screening should occur during the first prenatal visit, followed by screenings during the third trimester, and at the time of birth.

This is in contrast to the previous guidelines which suggested risk-based testing during the third trimester for pregnant individuals residing in areas with elevated syphilis rates and for those who may have been exposed to syphilis during pregnancy.

"There has been a near eightfold increase in congenital syphilis cases in the last decade or more, and from a public health perspective, we recognize that obstetrician-gynecologists and other obstetric care clinicians play a critical role. While we continue to endorse CDC's sexually transmitted infection treatment guidelines, ACOG's new guidance will no longer follow an individualized risk-based approach to testing later in pregnancy and instead help ensure more opportunities for testing and treatment," said Dr. Christopher Zahn, interim CEO and chief of clinical practice and health equity and quality in a news release.

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, syphilis cases increased by 80% in the United States between 2018 and 2022. Furthermore, there were 3,700 reported cases of congenital syphilis in 2022, reflecting a concerning 10 percent rise over the past decade.

"Timely diagnosis and treatment are key to reducing syphilis rates, and yet we are currently facing several challenges, including treatment shortages, lack of access to prenatal care, and the stigma that surrounds sexually transmitted infections. Congenital syphilis can have devastating effects. We know that a majority of cases can be prevented, so additional routine screening during pregnancy is one important step that clinicians can take that could potentially be lifesaving," Dr. Zahn said.