Maternal Syphilis Rates, Risk for Babies Spike Higher, CDC Says

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Feb. 14, 2024 -- The overall rate of women giving birth with syphilis more than tripled from 2016 to 2022, according to new figures from the CDC.

The figure rose from 87.2 to 280.4 per 100,000 births, the CDC says. More than 10,000 women who gave birth in 2022 had syphilis. The number was 3,400 in 2016.

That has coincided with a sharp increase in congenital syphilis, or babies being born with the disease, CNN reported, noting; “In infants, syphilis can be a severe, disabling and sometimes life-threatening infection.”

CNN also reported that an earlier CDC report said almost 3,800 babies were born with congenital syphilis in 2022. That’s 10 times the number from a decade earlier. Syphilis caused 282 stillbirths and infant deaths in 2022.

The CDC report also said, “Syphilis rates were highest in mothers who were American Indian and Alaska Native, younger than age 25, and had no prenatal care. For 2021–2022, the rate ranged from 45.8 in Maine to 762.6 per 100,000 births in South Dakota.”

Syphilis is highly transmittable from mother to baby through the placenta. Almost 90 percent of congenital cases could be prevented through testing and treatment, the CDC says. 

Maternal syphilis rates are lowest among women who receive prenatal care early in pregnancies. The rates are almost four times higher than average for those who don’t receive any prenatal care.

The rates also are higher among women younger than 25 and decrease with age, the new CDC figures show.

South Dakota was the state with the highest maternal syphilis rate for 2021-22. It was among six states that increased more than 400% since 2016-17. The state with the lowest rate was Maine, among three states with no significant increase.