Congenital syphilis: USA reports most cases since 1995

Grant Boone
October 9, 2019

Leading the rise in nationwide increases, the USA saw a 40% rise in newborns born with congenital syphilis since past year, about a 14% increase overall.

"We're documenting an increase in STDs for the fifth consecutive year", said Elizabeth Torrone, an epidemiologist with the CDC.

And the syphilis rate rose 15 percent.

The increases coincided with public health funding cuts and clinic closures.

Between 2017 and 2018, the number of newborn babies that died of syphilis increased by 22 percent. The primary and secondary stages of syphilis, which are the most infectious, increased to more than 35,000 cases. According to the CDC, this is a result of decreased condom use among high-risk groups; lack of access or coverage for medical care; decreases in local STD and partner notification services; the asymptomatic nature of some of these infections; and stigma and discrimination. "Most people infected with an STD do not know it". That makes it harder for officials to follow pregnant women to be sure they're getting their antibiotic doses, or to reach out to doctors and community leaders to raise awareness about the rise of syphilis.

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Alaska ranked highest per capita among states for chlamydia - something it has done since tracking began in 1996 - and second for gonorrhea.

According to the data, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia cases are continuing to increase throughout California and are at the highest levels in 30 years. Untreated, these diseases can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain.

"STDs can come at a high cost for babies and other vulnerable populations", Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a news release. "Curbing STDs will improve the overall health of the nation and prevent infertility, HIV, and infant deaths".

Antibiotics can cure chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, but many people fail to get screened and treated for the diseases. "It's a smart bug", Torrone noted. "There's a lot of assumptions that these are adults and they should be making better choices, and if they did, there wouldn't be the spread of STDs", Casalotti says. We also call on HHS to ensure that its Federal Action Plan on STIs, announced earlier this year, is finalized and implemented urgently.

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