New York City health officials reported an 186 percent increase in congenital syphilis cases from 2017 to 2018.
In 2017, seven cases were reported, while preliminary data show 20 congenital syphilis cases last year.
The twenty cases is the largest number of congenital syphilis cases reported annually in NYC in over 10 years, and included one syphilitic stillbirth at 31 weeks.
Nearly all mothers of congenital syphilis cases in 2018 were non-Hispanic Black (11 cases; 55%) or
Hispanic (6 cases; 30%). More than half (59%) of case-mothers were born in the United States.
Congenital syphilis can be prevented by timely treatment of maternal syphilis. However, syphilis
symptoms may not be apparent, so serologic screening during pregnancy is critical. New York State
Public Health Law mandates syphilis screening at first prenatal care examination and at delivery.
Increasingly, the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has documented congenital
cases resulting from maternal syphilis infections acquired after screening negative earlier during
pregnancy; this accounted for 55% of congenital syphilis cases in 2018.
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The Department of Health recommends additional syphilis screening at 28 weeks for all pregnant New
This is based on: a) NYC’s high rate of syphilis compared to the rest of the nation, b)
increases in numbers of cases of congenital syphilis, c) the increasing proportion of cases resulting
from maternal infection acquired after a negative syphilis test in early pregnancy, d) the gravity of
health outcomes for infants, and e) the preventability of these outcomes with additional screening and
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.
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