Syphilis has increased 128% among women in Houston since 2019

Jul 16, 2023, 7:00 AM

(CNN) — The Houston Health Department has reported a syphilis outbreak, with an increase of 128...

The appearance of an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea and a dramatic rise in congenital syphilis, indicating pregnant women are not being screened or treated in time to prevent its transmission to their babies, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (Shutterstock)


(CNN) — The Houston Health Department has reported a syphilis outbreak, with an increase of 128% among women in the city, and a ninefold increase in congenital cases in Houston and the surrounding Harris County area since 2019.

Health officials announced the outbreak in a Thursday news release.

According to the department, new infections rose by 57% from 2019 to 2022. There were 2,905 new infections in 2022, compared to 1,845 new infections in 2019.

There were 674 cases among women in 2022, a steep increase from 295 cases in 2019, according to the release. And there were 151 cases of congenital syphilis in 2021, the latest year for which statistics are available, compared to just 16 cases in 2016.

Congenital syphilis happens when a pregnant person passes the bacterial infection to their baby in the womb. Untreated congenital syphilis can lead to stillbirth or damage to the baby’s organs or bones.

“It is crucial for pregnant women to seek prenatal care and syphilis testing to protect themselves from an infection that could result in the deaths of their babies,” said Marlene McNeese Ward, deputy assistant director in the Houston Health Department’s Bureau of HIV/STI and Viral Hepatitis Prevention, in the news release. “A pregnant woman needs to get tested for syphilis three times during her pregnancy.”

Pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at their initial prenatal visit, during the third trimester, and at delivery, according to the release.

The health department is waiving all clinical fees for sexually transmitted infections at its health centers, according to the release.

Additionally, the department “will expand the use of its HIV/STD mobile clinic to increase the number of community screening sites and set up in areas considered hot spots, selected from disease monitoring and case management data,” the release said.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection commonly spread through sexual contact. The disease usually starts with a painless sore on the genitals or mouth – direct contact with the sores spreads the infection.

When it’s caught early on, syphilis is easily treatable with antibiotics. But without treatment, the infection can lie dormant in the body for years or even decades before attacking the brain, nerves, eyes, and other organs. It can cause deafness, blindness, and death.

Congenital syphilis has skyrocketed across the US, particularly in the South and Southwest. Infections in newborns have risen about 700% across the country over the past decade, a CDC official previously told CNN. Experts attributed the rise to a combination of factors including a lack of public funding for sexual health programs, a shortage of qualified personnel, and uneven coverage for screening by Medicaid.

Because syphilis in its early stages may not have obvious symptoms, pregnant people and their healthcare providers might not notice it or screen for it at all.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


FILE: Stacie Hale plays with her son Theodor at home in Smithfield. Stacie hoped to get aid from WI...

Lindsay Aerts

Government shutdown could disrupt Utahns using WIC benefits

But Utah health officials say they're working to assure that the benefits for Utah mothers and children will not run out.

23 hours ago

Wasatch County Sheriff's Office...

Simone Seikaly

Mother charged with aggravated murder after disappearance of infant

Police said the mother 18-year-old Estrella Meza Ojeda, withheld supplemental oxygen that her infant son needed to survive.

1 day ago

Eating high-calorie foods regularly can make it a challenge to lose weight — even if you spend mo...

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

What happens if you exercise but don’t eat well?

Exercise cannot completely reverse the effects of a bad diet, experts say.

1 day ago

Close up of a woman using her smartphone indoors. (Getty Images)...

Mariah Maynes

Blue light blocking glasses not reccomended by AAO

Blue light-filtering glasses not recommended by the American Academy of Ophthalmology due to lack of scientific evidence.

2 days ago


Michelle Lee

The ultimate travel preparation checklist

Let’s Get Moving Host Maria Shilaos spoke with Claire Newell, Founder of Travel Best Bets, to learn some of her travel preparation tips.

3 days ago

SALT LAKE CITY -- Inmates in one housing unit at the Utah State Correctional Facility were quaranti...

Dan Bammes

Housing unit quarantined after scabies outbreak at state correctional facility

57 inmates were affected after a breakout of scabies in a housing unit at the Utah State Correctional Facility.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Syphilis has increased 128% among women in Houston since 2019