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Home ALABAMA Congenital syphilis cases rising; ADPH emphasizes detection and treatment

Congenital syphilis cases rising; ADPH emphasizes detection and treatment


Syphilis is a venereal disease that is usually spread by sexual contact. Sadly, it can also spread from mother to child in the womb. These cases are called congenital syphilisand congenital syphilis cases are increasingly common in Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) announced on Monday that the state of Alabama reported 36 cases of congenital syphilis in 2021. That is the highest number of cases since 2006. There were 15 cases in 2019, 23 in 2020, and 36 cases in 2021 – a 63.9% increase over 2020 and a 140% increase since 2019.

Infants born with syphilis can have lifelong complications. Up to 40 percent of such babies are stillborn or die soon after birth. Not all babies have symptoms at birth. Babies who do not get treatment for congenital syphilis and develop symptoms later can die from the infection, be developmentally delayed, or have seizures. Babies born with congenital syphilis may have deformed bones; severe anemia; enlarged liver and spleen; jaundice; brain and nerve problems, such as blindness or deafness; meningitis; and skin rashes.

In a joint effort of the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Alabama Medicaid Agency to stop the rise of syphilis, healthcare providers and the public are reminded that ADPH offers free syphilis testing and treatment for pregnant women and their partners.

Testing is recommended both at the initial prenatal visit and again early in the third trimester of pregnancy, regardless of risk factors. Forty-four percent of these pregnant women had a negative syphilis test result at the first prenatal testing but a positive test close to or during labor and delivery.

Congenital syphilis is a preventable condition. As the syphilis rates of childbearing females are increasing, this means that congenital syphilis rates also increase. Of reported cases in Alabama, 79 percent of the mothers who delivered infants with congenital syphilis received prenatal care, but prevention opportunities were missed. The most missed opportunities to prevent congenital syphilis among prenatal care recipients in Alabama were the lack of syphilis diagnosis in the early third trimester.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 2013, the rate of congenital syphilis nationally has increased each year. In 2020, 2,148 cases of congenital syphilis were reported, including 149 congenital syphilis-related stillbirths and infant deaths. Although the majority of congenital syphilis cases were reported from a few states, 49 jurisdictions (47 states, the District of Columbia, and one US territory) reported at least one case of congenital syphilis in 2020, up from just 26 jurisdictions in 2011.

The national congenital syphilis rate of 57.3 cases per 100,000 live births in 2020 represents a 15% increase relative to 2019 and a 254% increase since 2016. These increases mirror increases in syphilis among reproductive-aged women. During 2019–2020 the rate of P&S syphilis increased 24% among women aged 15–44 years. In 2020, there were 5,726 cases of syphilis (all stages) diagnosed among pregnant women, an increase of 16% from 2019.

The best way to avoid syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases is for both partners to avoid sexual relations before marriage and with partners outside of the marriage.

In 2020, over half (53%) of reported cases of STDs were among adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24 years. Disparities continue to persist in rates of reported STDs among some racial minority or Hispanic groups when compared with rates among non-Hispanic White persons. In 2020, 32% of all cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and P&S syphilis were among non-Hispanic Black persons, even though they make up only approximately 12% of the US population.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email [email protected].



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