Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that since 2013, the rates of newborns born with syphilis have more than doubled. Newborns are getting it either during the pregnancy or during delivery. The 918 reported cases in 37 states were a 20-year high.

What's causing the increase? The CDC isn't sure, but they are urging doctors to test pregnant women for syphilis at their first prenatal visit and at a visit in their third trimester and at delivery, especially for women at high risk. About a third of the babies born with syphilis had mothers who were tested early in their pregnancy and either tested negative and then were not tested later in the pregnancy, or tested positive and did not get treated in time to avoid passing it on to their baby.

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, the CDC says, and if the mother is not treated she has an 80 percent chance of passing it on to her baby.

“When passed to a baby, syphilis can result in miscarriage, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and mental health problems,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a press release. “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 rates of newborns born with syphilis was in line with the jump the CDC has seen of syphilis in women of child-bearing age.

The CDC says it has these plans to try to reduce the number of babies born with syphilis:


Ramping up support for high burden states to strengthen local prevention systems and improve their ability to identify and treat pregnant women with syphilis.
Researching factors contributing to the resurgence of congenital syphilis cases to inform prevention programs.
Increasing awareness of congenital syphilis risk factors among pregnant women through partnerships with community organizations like March of Dimes.