US babies born with syphilis quadrupled in 5 years

Even though congenital syphilis is preventable, 1,870 babies were born with the disease in 2019 and 128 babies died from it, according to a story co-published by ProPublica and NPR.

More than 129,800 U.S. syphilis cases were reported in 2019, double the figure five years prior. For the same time period, cases of congenital syphilis quadrupled. Case counts for 2020 aren't  final yet, but the CDC said congenital syphilis cases exceed 2019, with Black, Hispanic and Native American babies at a disproportionately higher risk.

If pregnant individuals infected with syphilis get treated with three weekly penicillin shots at least 30 days before birth, it can likely wipe out infection and the baby is born without any symptoms. If untreated, some babies can be born with deformed bones or damaged brains. 

Twice — in both the 1960s and in 1999 — the CDC has announced efforts to eradicate the disease.  

"We have a long history of nearly eradicating something, then changing our attention, and seeing a resurgence in numbers," said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. "We have more congenital syphilis cases today in America than we ever had pediatric AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It's heartbreaking."

As fear ebbs, so does the attention, funding and motivation to resolve the issue. Too often, when attention is diverted, the hardest to reach and most vulnerable populations are left suffering. 

The CDC's 2015-20 budget for preventing sexually transmitted infections rose 2.2 percent, which, accounting for inflation, represents a 7.4 percent decrease in purchasing power. At the same time, cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia increased by nearly 30 percent. 

In May 2021, President Joe Biden's administration said it would dedicate $7.4 billion over the next five years to public health workers, including $1.1 billion for disease intervention specialists.  

Copyright © 2022 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars