Newborn Syphilis Cases More than Double, 20-Year High

On September 25, 2018, the CDC published a report that found that reported cases of congenital syphilis – syphilis passed from mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery – have more than doubled since 2013. The data underscore the need for all pregnant women to receive early prenatal care that includes syphilis testing at their first visit and follow-up testing for women at high risk of infection.


Reported cases jumped from 362 in 2013 to 918 in 2017 – the highest number of recorded cases in 20 years. Cases were reported in 37 states – primarily Western and Southern states. The report noted that this surge paralleled similar increases in syphilis among women of reproductive age and outpaces national increases in STDs overall.


“When passed to a baby, syphilis can result in miscarriage, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and mental health problems,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., the director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “No parent should have to bear the death of a child when it would have been prevented with a simple test and safe treatment.”


Syphilis during pregnancy is easily cured with the right antibiotics. If left untreated, a pregnant woman with syphilis has up to an 80 percent chance of passing it on to the baby.


“To protect every baby, we have to start by protecting every mother,” said Gail Bolan, M.D., the director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “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.”


Recent CDC research shows that 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 and prevent adverse health outcomes.


The CDC recommends that all pregnant women be tested for syphilis the first time they see a doctor about their pregnancy. But for many women, one test for syphilis may not be enough. Women at high risk for syphilis or who live in high-prevalence areas should be tested not only at the first prenatal visit, but again early in the third trimester and at delivery. If sexually active, individuals can lower their risk of getting syphilis by being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested for syphilis and using condoms the right way every time they have sex.


See the CDC Announcement


See the CDC Report


See also Medical Risk Law Report: Mothers, Infants, and Obstetrical Injuries: Labor and Delivery Liability Risks


See also Medical Risk Law Report: Pediatrician Liability Involving Diseases and Conditions of Childhood