By NewsDesk  @infectiousdiseasenews

Wisconsin state health officials report cases of adult and congenital syphilis are on the rise in the state.

In Milwaukee, the numbers are dramatic– The number of people diagnosed with syphilis in Milwaukee has increased by nearly 300% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Most of the increase in syphilis cases is in females of reproductive age. The City of Milwaukee has also reported higher numbers of congenital syphilis, or syphilis cases where an infected pregnant person passes syphilis to their fetus.


“The spike in syphilis cases is alarming,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer for Bureau of Communicable Diseases. “We are especially concerned with cases of congenital syphilis affecting babies born to mothers with syphilis. Congenital syphilis can have devastating consequences but is preventable with simple screening, early detection, and treatment.”

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a type of bacteria known as Treponema pallidum. If left untreated in adults, the bacteria can affect many different organ systems, including the heart and blood vessels. Sadly, up to 40% of babies with congenital syphilis may be born stillborn or die from the infection. Congenital syphilis can also cause miscarriage, prematurity, or low birth weight.

Per CDC guidelines, pregnant people who live in areas where there are higher rates of syphilis should be screened at least twice during pregnancy, once in the first trimester and again during the third trimester. DHS has identified six counties where repeat third trimester testing is recommended, based on increased syphilis rates during 2020, these include Brown, Dane, Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, and Winnebago counties.