By Caitlin Tilley, health reporter for Dailymail.Com
15:48 February 13, 2024, updated 16:34 February 13, 2024
- Syphilis rate among pregnant women increased by 222 percent between 2016 and 2022
- There were 3,755 cases of congenital syphilis in 2022, a 10-fold increase compared to 2012.
- READ MORE: America’s Surprising New STD Hot Spot
Rates of the most dangerous form of syphilis have tripled since 2016, health officials have warned.
New data from the CDC shows that 280.4 pregnant women per 100,000 births tested positive for the sexually transmitted disease in 2022, compared to 87.2 per 100,000 births in 2016.
Of particular concern is the risk of congenital syphilis – a preventable but serious illness that occurs when a woman passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy. About 40 percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis are stillborn or die from the infection as newborns.
The risk of premature births and birth defects, including bone damage, severe anemia, enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice, nerve problems causing blindness or deafness, meningitis or skin rashes, is also higher.
This comes amid a national outbreak of syphilis and other STDs such as chlamydia, blamed on ccasual hookups and the “explosion” in popularity of dating apps like Hinge and Bumble.
At the same time, rates of premature births and birth defects have all increased in recent years, confusing doctors.
More than 10,000 women giving birth in 2022 had syphilis, a sharp increase from 3,400 in 2016, meaning there was one case of maternal syphilis for every 357 births.
Nationally, there were 3,755 cases of congenital syphilis in 2022, a 10-fold increase from the previous decade and a 31% year-over-year increase.
This caused 282 stillbirths and infant deaths in 2022.
The CDC report also showed that the rate of syphilis among women of childbearing age and congenital syphilis – a preventable but serious illness that occurs when a woman passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy – increased by more than 250 percent between 2016 and 2022.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum that leads to sores around the genitals and mouth.
Syphilis rates have increased by more than 400 percent in six states: New Mexico, Colorado, Mississippi, South Dakota, Montana and Alaska.
The state with the highest rate change is South Dakota, where the rate increased 763% between 2016 and 2022.
Increases of less than 100 percent in syphilis rates were observed in seven states: Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Idaho and Utah.
There were no significant changes for three states: Maine, Vermont and Wyoming.
A November CDC report blamed the increase in congenital syphilis on a lack of “adequate treatment during pregnancy.”
Dr. Irene Stafford, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at UTHealth Houston, told CNN: “These days, the overwhelming majority of pregnant patients are simply not tested.
“And even if they do get tested, they won’t necessarily be treated in time.”
According to the CDC report, rates of maternal syphilis are lowest among women who begin receiving prenatal care during their first trimester.
Rates are highest – almost four times the average – among women who receive no prenatal care.
Primary syphilis usually begins with a sore on the vagina and penis or around the mouth that, even without treatment, usually disappears after a few weeks.
It can develop into a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet and can be cured in most cases with a single injection of penicillin.
Early-stage syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.
Secondary syphilis manifests itself as a rash, lesions and swelling of the lymph nodes.
In severe cases and if left untreated, syphilis can lead to organ failure, blindness and even death.
Years after exposure, infection can affect vital organs and the nervous system, according to the CDC, potentially causing blindness or dementia.
Symptoms in pregnant women include sores around the vagina, rashes on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, hair loss, muscle pain, and fever.
Once infected, anyone can transmit syphilis. It is transmitted from person to person through direct contact with a wound and during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Some experts have pointed to a decline in condom use among American men — nearly 30 percent since 2011, according to some studies.
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