More U.S. Babies Born With Syphilis, Report Finds

An analysis of national surveillance data shows the number of congenital syphilis (CS) cases reported in the United States increased during 2005-2008, with cases in the South accounting for nearly all of the uptick, CDC announced Thursday.

"After declining for 14 years, the CS rate among infants aged less than one year increased 23 percent, from 8.2 cases per 100,000 live births in 2005 to 10.1 during 2008," CDC researchers reported. "That increase followed a 38 percent increase in the P&S [primary and secondary syphilis] rate among females aged greater than or equal to 10 years from 2004 to 2007.

"During 2005-2008, CS rates increased primarily in the South (from 9.6 per 100,000 live births to 15.7) and among infants born to black mothers (from 26.6 per 100,000 live births to 34.6," CDC said. "Recent increases in P&S syphilis among black women in the South have been linked to crack cocaine use and commercial sex work."

"In 2008, only 64 percent of mothers of infants with CS received prenatal care, a percentage virtually unchanged from 2003 and 2005," an editorial note on the report said. "Early prenatal care is an essential component of CS prevention because it facilitates early detection and treatment of maternal syphilis," the note emphasized. "CDC recommends serologic syphilis testing for all pregnant women at the first prenatal visit."

Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth, neonatal death, or deafness, neurologic impairment, and bone deformities in infants. CS can be prevented by early detection of maternal infection and antibiotic treatment at least 30 days prior to delivery.

The complete report, "Congenital Syphilis -- United States, 2003-2008," was published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (2010;59(14):413-417).