The Number of Babies Being Born With Syphilis Is on the Rise

Sep 27, 2018 at 3:24 p.m. ET
photo of newborn in hospital
Image: YDL/DigitalVision/Getty Images.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance report, and in it was shocking news: In 2017, there was a sharp increase in the number of babies being born with congenital syphilis.

More: STD Rates in the U.S. Now at a Record High

In fact, the rates are at a 20-year high.

Congenital syphilis was once all but eradicated. In 2000 and 2001, the national rates "primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis cases was 2.1 cases per 100,000 population, the lowest rate since reporting began in 1941" according to the CDC.

However, in 2017 there were 918 cases of congenital syphilis alone, or 23.3 cases per 100,000 live births.

David C. Harvey, executive director of National Coalition of STD Directors, said in a statement emailed to SheKnows that this increase is a failure on the part of the health care system: "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. 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.”

What's more, Harvey said, “[W]hen a baby gets syphilis it means the system has failed that mother repeatedly, both before and during her pregnancy. If STD prevention programs had anywhere near the support they need and women were getting quality preventative and prenatal care, no new mom would ever have to cope with this devastating diagnosis.”

The CDC hypothesizes that many of these women did not receive adequate testing or treatment during their pregnancies.

That said, it is important to note that not all pregnant mothers will pass syphilis to their unborn child; however, it is fairly common. In fact, according to Baby Center, "[I]f you don't get treated, there's a very high chance that your baby will be infected, particularly if you're in the early stages of the disease, when it's most infectious. About 50 percent of pregnant women with untreated early syphilis end up [having] a baby who's infected."

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As such, the CDC recommends screening for syphilis at the beginning of pregnancy, at the start of the third trimester and right before delivery. If you test positive, you should begin treatment right away.

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