The number of recorded cases of syphilis passed from mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery has more than doubled since 2013.
Public health officials said that the cases jumped from 362 five years ago to 918 in 2017. This is the highest recorded cases of syphilis in the United States in two decades.
Syphilis in newborn babies was reported in 37 states across the United States in 2017. Five states, particularly in the Western and Southern part of the country, accounted for the most cases.
"We are failing pregnant women in the United States," said David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors.
The findings were published on Tuesday, Sept. 25, by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report.
Congenital Syphilis Cases Rising
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through sex. It has existed for centuries and was considered deadly until penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.
It was nearly eliminated more than a decade ago, but today, the number of new cases of syphilis continues to rise and with deadly consequences.
To women, syphilis, if left untreated, can affect different organ systems including the heart and the brain.
It can also be passed on by mother to her babies during pregnancy or delivery. This is called congenital syphilis and children who are infected might experience life-long health issues such as cataracts, seizure, deafness, or death.
The CDC says that, in some cases of congenital syphilis reported in 2017, a few newborn babies have severe health complications or died.
"When passed to a baby, syphilis can result in miscarriage, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and mental health problems," said Jonathan Mermin, director of the 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."
The good news, however, is syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can easily be treated with antibiotics.
Protecting Children From Syphilis
For mothers, the best way to protect their children from congenital syphilis is to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases as soon as possible. Because, sometimes, syphilis does not carry symptoms, a woman might never know that she has the disease, putting her baby at risk.
The CDC advises all pregnant women to get tested for syphilis during their first prenatal visit to the doctor and again while in the third trimester if they remain sexually active.