Congenital syphilis is a preventable condition that results from untreated syphilis during pregnancy.

Potential consequences for the infected baby include stillbirth, neonatal death, blindness, deafness and skeletal deformations. Fetal transmission can occur during any trimester.

Reported cases of congenital syphilis have more than doubled since 2013, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

An infant demonstrating mucous patches and skin lesions resulting from congenital syphilis Image/CDC
An infant demonstrating mucous patches and skin lesions resulting from congenital syphilis

Reported cases jumped from 362 in 2013 to 918 in 2017 – the highest number of recorded cases in 20 years. Cases were reported in 37 states – primarily Western and Southern states.

The data underscore the need for all pregnant women to receive early prenatal care that includes syphilis testing at their first visit and follow-up testing for women at high risk of infection.

“When passed to a baby, syphilis can result in miscarriage, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and mental health problems,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “No parent should have to bear the death of a child when it would have been prevented with a simple test and safe treatment.”

CDC notes to reduce the number of babies born with syphilis, it is critical for all pregnant women to visit a health care provider as soon as possible during every pregnancy and to be tested for syphilis. Without early and regular prenatal care, a pregnant woman may not know that she has syphilis and that her baby is at risk.

Syphilis during pregnancy is easily cured with the right antibiotics. If left untreated, a pregnant woman with syphilis has up to an 80 percent chance of passing it on to her baby.

Recent CDC research shows that one in three women who gave birth to a baby with syphilis in 2016 did get tested during pregnancy, but either acquired syphilis after that test or did not get treated in time to cure the infection in the unborn baby and prevent adverse health outcomes.

CDC recommends that all pregnant women be tested for syphilis the first time they see a doctor about their pregnancy. But for many women, one test for syphilis may not be enough. Women at high risk for syphilis or who live in high-prevalence areas should be tested not only at the first prenatal visit, but again early in the third trimester and at delivery. If sexually active, individuals can lower their risk of getting syphilis by being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested for syphilis and using condoms the right way every time they have sex.