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Alabama reported 36 cases of congenital syphilis in 2021, the highest number of cases since 2006. Since 2019, Alabama has had increasing cases with 15 in 2019, 23 in 2020, and alarmingly, 36 cases in 2021.

Image/CDC

Congenital syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection passed from mother to child during pregnancy. Infants born with syphilis can have lifelong complications including skeletal and facial deformities, deafness and blindness. Up to 40 percent are stillborn or die soon after birth. Not all babies have symptoms at birth. Babies who do not get treatment for congenital syphilis and develop symptoms later can die from the infection, be developmentally delayed, or have seizures.

In a joint effort of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the Alabama Medicaid Agency to stop the rise of syphilis, healthcare providers and the public are reminded that ADPH offers free syphilis testing and treatment for pregnant women and their partners. Testing is recommended both at the initial prenatal visit and again early in the third trimester of pregnancy, regardless of risk factors. Forty-four percent of these pregnant women had a negative syphilis test result at the first prenatal testing but a positive test close to or during labor and delivery.

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Congenital syphilis is a preventable condition. As syphilis rates of childbearing females increase, congenital syphilis rates also increase. Of reported cases in Alabama, 79 percent of the mothers who delivered infants with congenital syphilis received prenatal care, but prevention opportunities were missed. The most missed opportunities to prevent congenital syphilis among prenatal care recipients in Alabama were lack of syphilis diagnosis in the early third trimester.