Syphilis Outbreak: Maternal Infections Triple, Putting Newborns at Grave Risk Nationwide! 

CDC reported cases of syphilis tripled since 2016, the surge coinciding with cases of infected babies in the womb from the infected mother.
CDC reported cases of syphilis tripled since 2016, the surge coinciding with cases of infected babies in the womb from the infected mother. Credit | AP photos

United States: According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on Tuesday, the number of women delivering in the US with syphilis has tripled since 2016. 

The high increase in maternal syphilis cases over the last two years has been linked to concerning increase in congenital syphilis which is in simpler language, the occurrence of baby syphilis while the baby is still in the womb. 

Surge in syphilis cases among delivering mothers 

Over 10,000 of the women who gave birth in 2022 had syphilis as compared to about 3,400 cases in 2016, as stated by CDC data. That is roughly 1 in 357 maternal syphilis cases per birth. 

As per the CNN Health report, another CDC report in January noted that the number of stillbirths and newborns through syphilis in 2022 was around 3,800 which was 10 times higher in the last decade and most infants who were allowed to die 282 are due to this in 2022. 

Congenital syphilis rebound is “a direct result of untested and untreated mothers,” said Dr. Irene Stafford, a maternal-fetal medicine physician with UTHealth Houston, who was not part of the research. 

Stafford stated, Syphilis “is particularly pathogenic, it’s particularly infectious to the fetus, and rates are skyrocketing.” 

Pregnant women who are unaware of syphilis due to an early-stage infection have a 70 percent probability of passing the confined agent from them through the placenta to their fetus, reported Stafford. 

It’s the risk throughout all stages of pregnancy at the same extent and it only drops down marginally during the latter stages of infection, she said, as per a CNN Health report. 

Syphilis infection can be prevented- says CDC 

According to a CDC report, the vast majority of congenital syphilis cases in the United States – almost 90 percent – could have been prevented if better testing and treatment were in progress. 

Timely treatment – preferably at least 30 days prior to delivery – produces this amazing outcome of dropping the infection from the mother to the baby by 98 percent. 

Visual Representation – Syphilis Bacteria

Experts also say that access to treatment is not equal as well as lacking. 

Moreover, Stafford said, “The overwhelming majority of pregnant patients these days are just not getting tested. And even if they do get tested, they’re not necessarily getting treated in a timely fashion,” reported CNN Health. 

Clinic working hours can become a problem for prenatal women when trying to schedule their appointments, she said. 

And while speed tests that can be done during the same appointment, to kickstart the diagnosis/treatment, are given low priority and are not as popular as the tests that can take days to return results and need a follow-up visit. 

The latest CDC study shows that the level of maternal syphilis rates is statistically insignificant for women who undergo their first prenatal care visit during the first trimester. Whereas, it is highest of all – almost four times higher than average – among women who do not even get prenatal check-ups. 

The highest maternal syphilis rates are those of the women who are younger than 25 years old, contrary to this, fewer rates were reported as women became older. The prevalence rate among the American Indian women who gave birth was five times greater than average, and rates among black and native Hawaiian women varied over 2 times the overall rate, as reported by CNN Health. 

The set of rules for testing women for sexually transmitted infections is found different in some states Stafford said and the new CDC data revealed that maternal syphilis rates differ in the USA. 

Nevertheless, this epidemic is spreading in the country as 40 states have an alarming level of maternal syphilis rate of more than twice the rate in 2016 and 2022, reported, CNN Health. 

The maternal syphilis rate for 2021-22 in South Dakota is one of the highest in the country. Moreover, four other states logged over 400 percent increase in the maternal syphilis case rate since 2016-17. 

The most minimal growth rate has been recorded in Maine – one of the three states, which did not see significant growth over that period of time. 

Efforts by the government to control the situation 

As per the announcement by the Biden administration in November, it established a special federal task force to address the “surging syphilis epidemic.” 

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors said, “There’s a huge challenge before us, and there are some hopeful signs of some action,” and, “The bad news is that we have no indication that there are any new resources or funding being brought to the table. And no new resources means that, at the end of the day, we’re not going to succeed in bringing these rates down.”