CDC Officials Note Sharp Increase in U.S. Babies Born With Syphilis

HealthDay News — Congenital syphilis cases increased 38% between 2012 and 2014, according to research published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The increase represents a rapid turnaround from just a few years ago. Rates dropped between 2008 and 2012, and reports of syphilis-infected infants decreased from 10.5 cases per 100,000 live births to 8.4 cases per 100,000 live births, lead researcher, CDC epidemiologist Virginia Bowen, PhD, told HealthDay.

Syphilis cases in women jumped 22% between 2012 and 2014, likely foreshadowing the jump in infant infections, Bowen said. 

“We think this increase in congenital syphilis is mirroring the trends we are seeing in syphilis among women,” she said. Bowen added that syphilis rates are rising among men and women, including those who are gay and bisexual, but the reason why isn’t clear. But of the 458 syphilis-infected babies born in 2014, she said 22% of the mothers had no prenatal care. Among women who had at least one prenatal visit, 43% were not treated for syphilis, although nearly half were diagnosed with the disease. In addition, 15% were never tested for syphilis during their pregnancy.

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“Congenital syphilis is a needless tragedy, and we need to be doing a better job of protecting newborn babies from this dangerous infection,” Bowen said. “These cases are entirely preventable, so 458 cases is 458 cases too many.”


1. Bowen V, Su J, Torrone E, et al. Increase in Incidence of Congenital Syphilis — United States, 2012–2014. MMWR., 2015;64(44);1241-1245.