Babies born with syphilis hit highest level in 32 years in Pennsylvania

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(WBRE/WYOU) — The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) is urging mothers-to-be to get tested for syphilis to reverse the recent trend of babies being born with the disease.

Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said she is strongly encouraging pregnant people to seek prenatal care and to get tested in an effort to prevent babies from being born with syphilis.

The DOH says congenital syphilis occurs when a pregnant person with syphilis passes the infection on to the baby during pregnancy. It can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births, low birth weight, or death shortly after birth.

“Congenital syphilis can be a painful disease that is dangerous for the overall health of babies. It also is preventable,” Johnson said. “We need to educate pregnant people about the importance of testing for syphilis throughout the pregnancy in order to stop children from being born with the disease and to reduce the chance of stillbirths.”

According to the DOH, so far in 2022, there have been 12 confirmed cases of births with congenital syphilis in Pennsylvania, excluding Philadelphia, along with two stillbirths, making it the highest number of cases since 1990.

Also, the DOH said it’s seen a disturbing trend over the past five years with 39 confirmed cases of congenital syphilis (excluding Philadelphia) since 2018, compared with six confirmed cases of the disease over the previous five years.

The number of congenital syphilis cases across the U.S. has risen steadily over the last eight years, growing from 334 in 2012 to 2,184 in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Over the last 10 years, the number of early syphilis cases of women of reproductive age has jumped exponentially from 29 cases in 2010 to 211 cases in 2021, the Pennsylvania DOH said.

The department said it’s focusing on educating pregnant women and other women of reproductive age while also reminding healthcare professionals about the importance of testing pregnant patients for syphilis.

“Pregnant patients need to understand that syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics. If anyone tests positive for syphilis during pregnancy, they should seek treatment right away,” Johnson said. “We hope that by openly talking about this issue, we can reduce the stigma surrounding syphilis testing, and ultimately, increase the number of healthy childbirths across the state.”

Nationwide, syphilis cases among women between the age of 15 and 44 have grown from 1,294 in 2012 to 6,924 in 2020, according to the CDC.

Watch: Press Conference on the rise of syphilis cases during pregnancy

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The DOH recommends all healthcare providers test all pregnant patients for syphilis at the first prenatal visit, during the third trimester and at delivery.

Additional information about congenital syphilis during pregnancy, testing, and treatment can be found online at the DOH’s website.



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