The number of congenital syphilis cases in Arizona in 2018 reached 53, a significant increase from previous years–2017 (31), 2016 (16), 2015 (14) and 13 in 2014 and 2013.

Image/National Atlas of the United States
Image/National Atlas of the United States

This also accounted for an increase in baby deaths due to the dangerous sexually transmitted infection. Last year, Arizona health officials reported 10 deaths, a more than 3-times increase from 2017 (3).

Pregnant women with untreated syphilis can pass the infection to their developing baby at any time, causing bone disorders, deafness, other congenital defects, or even stillbirth/death.

Up to 40 percent of untreated syphilitic pregnancies result in stillbirth or newborn death.

Rates of syphilis are rapidly increasing in women. The increase in babies is due, in part, to the increase of syphilis in women. In 2018, there were 802 female syphilis cases.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which is spread by having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can also be spread from mother to baby during pregnancy. Syphilis has been called “the great imitator” because its symptoms are similar to other infections and diseases. Additionally, its symptoms can be so mild that you may not notice that you have them.

Health officials recommend:

  • All pregnant women be screened for syphilis at the first prenatal visit or other encounter with the health care setting (e.g. urgent care, emergency department, primary care).
  • Screening must be repeated once early in the third trimester (i.e., 28-32 weeks estimated gestational age) and again at delivery.
  • All pregnant women with a positive screen and diagnosis of syphilis require prompt antibiotic treatment per established guidelines.