A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sounded the alarm on the sharp increase in newborn syphilis cases in the United States (Source: NBC News).
The report reveals that these cases have surged more than tenfold over the past decade and have witnessed a staggering 32% rise in just one year.
Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria, can have dire consequences if left untreated. It has the potential to persist in the body for years, and while symptoms may vanish temporarily, the infection can reemerge months or even years later.
Late-stage syphilis, though relatively rare, can be life-threatening due to the damage it inflicts on vital organs like the heart and brain.
One particularly distressing aspect is that mothers can transmit the disease to their newborns during pregnancy, resulting in congenital syphilis. This form of the infection can lead to devastating outcomes, including stillbirth, miscarriage, infant death, and developmental disabilities such as blindness or hearing loss.
The CDC report reveals that in 2021, 51 cases of congenital syphilis led to infant deaths, while 231 cases resulted in stillbirths. An alarming aspect of this situation is that nearly 90% of these cases could have been prevented through timely testing and treatment during pregnancy.
Shockingly, the data shows that in 40% of cases, there was no evidence that the pregnant individuals had received any prenatal care. This underscores the critical need for comprehensive and accessible prenatal care to safeguard maternal and infant health.
Communities of color are disproportionately affected, with babies born to Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, or Hispanic mothers in 2021 being up to eight times more likely to experience congenital syphilis compared to those born to white mothers, according to the CDC’s data.
Dr. Robert McDonald, the report’s lead author and a medical officer in the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, emphasized the critical importance of early screening to prevent congenital syphilis and its devastating consequences.
The CDC is taking a proactive approach to address this concerning trend. It strongly recommends that all pregnant women undergo syphilis screening via a blood test during their initial prenatal care visit.
Ideally, such screenings should occur as soon as they engage with a healthcare provider.