The Grapevine

Syphilis Cases In Babies Hits 20-Year High In US, CDC Reports

Sexually transmitted infections in the United States have hit yet another high, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The year 2017 saw 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, becoming the fourth year in a row to see an increase. Congenital syphilis cases have more than doubled in the same period, rising from 362 reported cases in 2013 to 918 reported cases in 2017, said to be the highest number in 20 years.

"Newborns are now paying the price for our nation’s growing STD crisis. That we have any cases of syphilis among newborns, let alone an increasing number, is a failure of the health care system," said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. "It is also a symptom of the larger STD crisis in the U.S. and a sign of a public health system in urgent need of support."

Congenital syphilis is the form of syphilis a pregnant mother can spread to her unborn infant. The infection is life-threatening as it can cause stillbirth or death soon after birth in 40 percent of cases. Furthermore, infants who do survive are at risk of developing other complications like deformed bones, blindness, deafness etc.

"No parent should have to bear the death of a child when it would have been prevented with a simple test and safe treatment," said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

Among the 918 identified cases of syphilis in infants, the data found 64 babies were stillborn while 13 of them died as infants. By state, Louisiana was found to have the highest rate of congenital syphilis in the country while Mississippi had the lowest.

If identified during pregnancy, the infection was easily treatable with the help of antibiotics. Nevertheless, the lack of access to health care presents a challenge for some women. Estimations from 2016 indicated 15 percent of women in the country received inadequate prenatal care.

"To protect every baby, we have to start by protecting every mother," said Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention. The CDC has revealed plans to increase their support and improve treatment in the states with the highest instances of the infection.

While every pregnant woman should be tested, the CDC recommends women in high-prevalence areas get tested multiple times — once during the first prenatal visit and again during the third trimester and at delivery. This is because many women were found to develop syphilis after their initial test.

"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," Bolan added.