ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Health officials are sounding the alarm on a jump in syphilis cases in newborns. Congenital syphilis happens when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy.

“Having syphilis during your pregnancy can lead to increased risk of miscarriage, of stillbirth, of preterm birth, and also, for pregnancies that do come to term, can cause many different issues with the infant,” said Brianna Samson, Director of Clinical Services at Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood.

The number of babies born with the disease in 2022 surged to 10 times more from a decade ago, according to data from the CDC. It’s a statistic of major concern to health care providers, especially because it is preventable.

“It’s treated with antibiotics, most of the time penicillin,” explained Dr. Bruce Morris, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at Albany Medical Center, “and it’s totally curative. We can take care of it, and yes, it can go to your baby, but the baby gets treated with antibiotic, too.”

In order for an expecting mother–or any person with syphilis–to get treated, they need to be tested. For pregnant women with access to prenatal care, Dr. Morris explained that it’s likely built in.

“Regular prenatal care involves getting tested for that at the very first visit,” Dr. Morris said.

However, according to the CDC, nearly 40% of last year’s congenital syphilis cases involved mothers who didn’t have prenatal care. Additionally, people from racial and ethnic minority groups are getting hit harder by the newborn syphilis epidemic.

“People in the BIPOC population are eight times more likely to have infants with congenital syphilis compared to white patients,” Samson said, “and so people need to be aware, but then also be able to access the treatment and testing that they need without any other barriers in the way.”

This is why the CDC is urging public health leaders to work with community-based centers that can help remove the obstacles for testing and treatment. The agency is also encouraging health officials and providers in counties with high syphilis rates to offer screening to sexually active women and their partners.

“The Department remains committed to increasing access to care, especially among vulnerable populations who might not have a regular provider or health insurance,” reads part of a statement from the NYS Department of Health.


STI surveillance data from the NYS Department of Health

County-level syphilis rates map from the CDC

Where to get tested for syphilis from Planned Parenthood