By NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

Health officials in the city of Houston are reporting a significant increase in congenital syphilis cases, prompting a new campaign emphasizing importance of prenatal care, syphilis testing for expectant mothers.


According to their data, the number of congenital syphilis cases among pregnant mothers in Houston and Harris County more than doubled from 2017 (47 cases) to 2018 (104 cases) — a 121 percent increase.

In addition, women ages 18-34 in Harris County accounted for 92 percent of all syphilis cases from 2017 to 2018. In 2018, Houston ranked first (at 88 percent) in Harris County for all reported congenital syphilis cases.

In 2018, Texas saw increased cases of syphilis in women of childbearing age along with a rise in congenital syphilis cases. The number of congenital syphilis cases in Texas increased 124 percent between 2017 (164 cases) and 2018 (367 cases), led by Harris County.

This is the largest number of congenital syphilis cases reported annually in Texas in more than 20 years.

The new campaign, called “My Prenatal Promise,” targets women of childbearing age (16-44), and emphasizes the importance of prenatal care and getting tested three times for syphilis, as required by Texas state law. The goals are to increase awareness about prenatal care and its link to the prevention of congenital syphilis, to promote the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of syphilis and to educate and encourage women to get tested for syphilis, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during pregnancy. The campaign emphasizes three actions: “Talk, Test and Treat.”

The first action, “talk,” urges expectant mothers — preferably accompanied by the fathers of the unborn babies — to specifically discuss STI testing with their doctors. The second action, “test,” urges taking all necessary tests to detect syphilis, HIV or other STIs. The third action, “treat,” urges expectant mothers to get treated immediately if diagnosed with syphilis.

Congenital syphilis is an infectious disease transmitted by an infected mother to her baby in the womb. Adults transmit syphilis through sexual contact but mothers can transmit the infection to their baby in the womb or through the birthing process. The disease can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, death shortly after birth, prematurity and birth defects. A woman can be treated and cured for syphilis during pregnancy, but it is important for women to be tested in time for treatment to be effective. Babies who test positive for syphilis at birth must be treated immediately to prevent serious health issues.