California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith announced today that California has seen an increase in syphilis cases among women, pregnant women and newborns over the past two years.
“The increase in congenital syphilis is particularly concerning,” Dr. Smith said. “Congenital syphilis occurs when syphilis is transmitted from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy. It is a needless tragedy that can be prevented with good prenatal care and timely and effective treatment.”
From 2012 to 2014, the annual number of reported early syphilis cases among women more than doubled from 248 cases to 594. The annual number of reported congenital syphilis cases more than tripled during the same period, from 30 to 100. Syphilitic stillbirths also increased, from one case in 2012 to six cases in 2014. The increasing trend of syphilis among women appears to continue in 2015.
Most of the congenital syphilis cases have been reported in the Central Valley and Los Angeles County. CDPH has not identified a cause for the increase in congenital syphilis, which is often associated with poverty and lack of access to health care. Most of the women who gave birth to babies with congenital syphilis did not receive adequate or timely prenatal care.
“When women do not receive proper prenatal care, they’re missing a crucial opportunity to be screened for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs),” Dr. Smith said. “It is vital that pregnant women get comprehensive prenatal care, including getting tested for STDs, to avoid transmitting infections to their babies.”
CDPH is addressing the rise of syphilis cases by working with local health departments to identify causes, reach out to infected pregnant women to make sure they and their partners are treated, and intensify efforts to follow-up on contacts of syphilis cases, particularly women of childbearing age.
CDPH is partnering with the health care community to work to increase enrollment for women. This is in addition to developing patient and provider informational materials focused on congenital syphilis.