STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Syphilis cases in newborn babies reach 20-year high, CDC says

Congenital syphilis cases -- when a mother passes syphilis onto her baby during pregnancy or delivery -- hav...

Posted: Sep 26, 2018 8:39 AM
Updated: Sep 26, 2018 8:39 AM

Congenital syphilis cases -- when a mother passes syphilis onto her baby during pregnancy or delivery -- have more than doubled in the United States since 2013, according to an report released Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eight out of 10 pregnant women who have untreated syphilis will pass it onto their babies through the placenta and this can lead to stillbirth or death of a newborn in up to 40% of affected pregnancies, according to the CDC.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Children

Demographic groups

Families and children

Family members and relatives

Government organizations - US

Health and medical

Infants and toddlers

Population and demographics

Public health

Society

US Department of Health and Human Services

US federal departments and agencies

Congenital diseases

Diseases and disorders

Health and health care (by demographic group)

Infectious diseases

Maternal and child health

Medical fields and specialties

Obstetrics and gynecology

Pregnancy and childbirth

Sexual and reproductive health

Sexually transmitted diseases

Women's health

Females (demographic group)

Continents and regions

North America

The Americas

United States

The number of recorded cases swelled from 362 in 2013 to 918 in 2017, the report indicates. Five states -- Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana and Texas -- account for 70% of the cases, according to the CDC. Additional cases were reported in 32 states, primarily Western and Southern states. The overall increase in congenital syphilis outpaces the national increase in sexually transmitted disease overall, the report indicated.

Diagnoses of primary and secondary syphilis, the most infectious stages of the disease, increased 76% in the US from 2013 to 2017, the CDC reports. Though rates of syphilis accelerated most among men, who accounted for more than 88% of infections in 2017, rates among women are also rising. The new report found 2.3 cases per 100,000 women in 2017, which rose from 1.9 cases diagnosed for every 100,000 women in 2016.

One in three women who gave birth to a baby with syphilis in 2016 did get tested during pregnancy, but either acquired syphilis after that test or did not get treated in time to cure the infection in the unborn baby, according to the CDC.

'Not surprising'

Dr. Pablo J. Sanchez, a principal investigator in the Center for Perinatal Research at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said, "I am not surprised that congenital syphilis has increased because we have been seeing increasing cases of syphilis among women of child-bearing ages. So it's not surprising but it is of major concern."

Sanchez, who was not involved in the CDC report, explained that untreated syphilis in a pregnant woman not only leads to possible fetal death or "death in the first month of life from overwhelming infection" but it can also cause enlarged liver, enlarged spleen, rash, abnormal bone inflammation, and infections of the brain and of the eye in an infant.

"The majority of babies who are born to mothers with untreated syphilis look well at birth and that's why it's so important to screen women during pregnancy to detect the infection," said Sanchez, who is also a professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

While some infected babies who go undetected at birth will develop signs of the disease in the first several months of life, some newborns will not develop any symptoms. Detection happens much later, usually around age 8 to 10 but up to 16 years old, when congenital syphilis affects other body organs causing hearing loss and eye problems, Sanchez explained.

"The good thing is if we are able to identify them -- even those who are asymptomatic-- and treat them in the newborn period, it seems like these babies do well," said Sanchez. He noted, though, that "we don't have a lot of information on the neurodevelopmental outcomes. That's the knowledge gap today."

The CDC recommends that every pregnant woman get screened early in her pregnancy so that she can get treated and prevent fetal infection and possible stillbirth. In areas or states where syphilis rates or congenital syphilis rates are high, women should get screened repeatedly -- at 28 to 32 weeks of pregnancy and at delivery, in addition to early-term screening.

"Repeated screening is important and imperative to be able to detect all cases of newborns who have been infected in utero," said Sanchez.

The treatment for a mother with syphilis is penicillin, which is curative and safe for both mother and fetus. In cases where the mother has not been treated or not adequately treated, then the baby can be treated either with a single shot of penicillin or a 10-day course of the common antibiotic. "That's curative and very safe," said Sanchez. "It's the standard of care."

Sanchez said congenital syphilis is a "major global public health problem," one that is on the rise not only in the US, but worldwide.

"Every case of congenital syphilis represents a failure of our public health and we need to ensure early and adequate prenatal care for all women and appropriate testing of women so that we can detect all babies and treat them appropriately," said Sanchez. "It sounds simple but unfortunately, it's not often done."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 33068

Reported Deaths: 2068
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9524558
Lake3494175
Cass15897
Allen141966
St. Joseph122134
Hendricks114268
Hamilton113292
Elkhart110128
Johnson1092106
Madison58459
Porter50522
Bartholomew49034
Clark47941
LaPorte42022
Tippecanoe3823
Howard37824
Delaware37636
Jackson3721
Shelby36822
Hancock32727
Floyd31739
Boone30535
Morgan27724
Vanderburgh2592
Montgomery23417
White2308
Decatur22431
Clinton2221
Noble20421
Grant19721
Dubois1903
Harrison18921
Henry16910
Greene16824
Monroe16512
Warrick16528
Dearborn16521
Vigo1538
Lawrence15223
Miami1401
Putnam1357
Jennings1294
Orange12422
Scott1203
Ripley1106
Franklin1098
Kosciusko1011
Carroll933
Daviess8416
Steuben812
Marshall801
Newton7610
Wayne756
Fayette747
Wabash742
LaGrange682
Jasper661
Washington511
Jay490
Fulton471
Clay461
Rush452
Randolph453
Jefferson431
Pulaski410
Whitley383
Owen351
Sullivan341
DeKalb331
Brown331
Starke323
Perry280
Wells270
Benton260
Huntington262
Knox250
Tipton241
Crawford230
Blackford222
Parke190
Spencer191
Switzerland190
Fountain182
Posey160
Gibson142
Adams131
Ohio130
Warren121
Vermillion100
Martin90
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0161

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 115833

Reported Deaths: 5186
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook753063519
Lake7933281
DuPage7460350
Kane6083167
Will5356268
Winnebago209153
McHenry148870
St. Clair105077
Kankakee83644
Kendall75119
Rock Island63923
Champaign5957
Madison54557
Boone42416
DeKalb3704
Sangamon34328
Randolph2674
Jackson25610
McLean21613
Ogle2002
Stephenson1992
Macon19219
Peoria1918
Out of IL1831
Clinton18017
Union1519
Unassigned1490
LaSalle14113
Whiteside13412
Iroquois1314
Coles12313
Warren1130
Jefferson10116
Knox960
Grundy952
Monroe9311
McDonough847
Lee791
Tazewell704
Cass690
Henry670
Williamson602
Marion500
Jasper457
Adams441
Macoupin442
Perry410
Pulaski410
Montgomery391
Vermilion381
Morgan341
Christian334
Jo Daviess320
Livingston322
Douglas260
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Menard190
Mason180
Washington180
Woodford182
Hancock160
Mercer160
Shelby161
Bureau151
Carroll142
Bond121
Franklin120
Piatt120
Schuyler120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Moultrie100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson70
Massac70
Saline70
Effingham61
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Edgar00
Terre Haute
Broken Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 79°
Robinson
Scattered Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 79°
Indianapolis
Scattered Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 78°
Rockville
Scattered Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 73°
Casey
Few Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 75°
Brazil
Broken Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 79°
Marshall
Broken Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 79°
Cooling off, B-E-A-utiful weekend ahead!
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events