Congenital syphilis is at a 30-year high across the nation

Nov 7, 2023, 9:00 PM

A pregnant woman sits on the ground. Congenital syphilis is at a 30-year high in the U.S....

Congenital syphilis is at a 30-year high in the U.S. (Photo by Diana Bagnoli/Getty Images)

(Photo by Diana Bagnoli/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Tuesday said syphilis rates in infants have increased 10 times in the last decade.

Those national numbers reflect what’s going on in Utah.

In 2022, there were 3,700 babies born with syphilis in the United States. What’s alarming to the CDC is how preventable and treatable syphilis is, yet right now, the United States is seeing a 30-year high.

The agency said reports of syphilis are increasing across all racial groups. However, Black, Hispanic, and Native American people seem to be impacted the most.

“A previous CDC analysis from earlier this year found that babies born to Black, Hispanic or American Indian/Alaska Native mothers, were up to 8 times more likely to have newborn syphilis in 2021, than babies born to white mothers,” said Dr. Laura Bachman from the CDC.

Part of the problem is mothers haven’t been receiving timely testing and treatment during pregnancy. So, the CDC is encouraging rapid treatment for pregnant women in hopes of reducing cases.

“CDC is encouraging providers to consider using rapid syphilis testing and presumptive treatment with the first positive test for patients who may face barriers to regular high-quality prenatal care,” Bachman said.

“By treating patients quickly rather than waiting for the results of a follow-up test and requiring another visit, we can reduce some of the greatest hurdles to the care some mothers need.”

According to the CDC, syphilis during pregnancy causes things like miscarriage, stillbirth, and lifelong medical issues.

Congenital syphilis in Utah

Dr. Andy Pavia with University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has practiced pediatric care for 30 years. He said 10 years ago, congenital syphilis cases were at zero.  

“In 2012 and 2011, Utah reported no cases of congenital syphilis during the period that was the baseline for the national numbers,” Pavia said.

Now, Pavia is treating one to two exposed infants per week.

Congenital syphilis in infants is completely preventable. However, untreated syphilis in mothers can be life-threatening for the child. 

“If pregnant people have good access to prenatal care and are tested early on, there should never be any children born with congenital syphilis,” Pavia said.

Syphilis will attack every part of a child’s body if the disease remains untreated, Pavia told KSL NewsRadio. That’s why it’s vital to be tested and treated for STDs early on in pregnancy.

And the treatment is easy. Pavia said that if a test detects syphilis, a one-time injection will often rid a child’s body of the disease.

“This is a real reminder that if you think you might be pregnant, you need to start getting prenatal care early,” Pavia said. “That care includes screening for syphilis.”

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Congenital syphilis is at a 30-year high across the nation