Congenital syphilis is on the rise in the United States of America.
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Nov. 7 found that the number of babies infected with syphilis via the placenta jumped by 755% between 2012 and 2021. Moreover, delays in testing and treatment shortages further increased the number of congenital syphilis cases in 2022.
Syphilis during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. It is linked to a higher risk of maternal and infant morbidity.
According to the new report, 3,761 congenital syphilis cases were recorded in 2022. Of these, 6% (231) resulted in a stillbirth. The total number of cases is 10 times higher than the number of congenital syphilis cases reported in 2012 (334).
“This represents a 31.7% increase in congenital syphilis cases from those reported during 2021, concurrent with a 17.2% increase in rates of primary and secondary syphilis cases among females aged 15–44 years (from 16.3 to 19.1 per 100,000 population),” reported researchers.
The majority of the women carrying babies infected with syphilis (87.8%) in 2022 were either not tested on time or were never tested for the infection, or else did not receive any or adequate treatment.
“No testing or nontimely testing resulted in the highest percentage of missed opportunities for prevention among non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (47.4%), non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (61.0%), and non-Hispanic White (40.8%) birth parents,” states the report. “Inadequate treatment was the most prevalent cause for missed prevention opportunities among non-Hispanic Black or African American (39.2%) and Hispanic or Latino (47.4%) birth parents.”
The only recommended treatment for syphilis during pregnancy is benzathine penicillin G which must be administered by a medical professional via injection. Depending on the level of the infection, the treatment is either given as a single dose or as 3 doses over the course of 7 to 9 days. The CDC noted the U.S. is currently experiencing a nationwide shortage of benzathine penicillin G.
The federal agency recommends physicians test sexually active people who live in communities with primary or secondary syphilis infection rates greater than 4.6 per 100,000 women ages 15–44 years.
Approximately 38% of U.S. counties, or 72% of the U.S. population, lived in communities with syphilis rates above that level in 2021.
“Any encounter with medical or public health professionals during pregnancy is an opportunity to identify and treat syphilis, thereby preventing congenital syphilis as well as maternal morbidity,” warned the CDC. “Screening for syphilis at encounters outside traditional prenatal care (e.g., emergency department, jail intake, syringe services program, and maternal and child health programs) might help identify and treat persons with syphilis who might not otherwise receive adequate prenatal care.”
The CDC warned in April that a documented increase in sexually transmitted infections showed “no signs of slowing.” Rates of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea climbed 5.8% since 2020 and 7% since 2017, per ABC News.
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