Number of Babies Born With Syphilis Rises Sharply Interview with:
Dr. Virginia Bowen PhD
Epidemic Intelligence Service
Division of STD Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention,CDC 

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Bowen: Congenital syphilis (CS) occurs when a mother infected with syphilis transmits the infection to her child during the course of pregnancy. Our study looked at recent trends in CS between 2008 and 2014. After four years of decline, Congenital syphilis rates increased by 38% from 2012 to 2014.

The findings from this report show we are missing opportunities to screen and treat pregnant women for STDs. Syphilis in pregnant women can cause miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths, or death of newborn babies. We have effective tests and treatment for syphilis – there’s no excuse for allowing it to resurge. Every case of CS is one too many.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Bowen: This increase parallels a national increase in primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis among women during the same time period (22% increase during 2012-2014). Without changes to the detection and treatment of syphilis among pregnant women, increasing P&S syphilis among women can easily translate into increases in congenital syphilis among infants. Of the 458 congenital syphilis cases in 2014, about one in five mothers did not receive any prenatal care, and many who were diagnosed with syphilis during pregnancy didn’t receive treatment. Prenatal care is essential to the overall health and wellness of mother and child – and late/inadequate care is a leading cause of congenital syphilis.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Bowen: We have a shared responsibility to address barriers to obtaining quality prenatal care, including STD screening. Health care providers should screen pregnant women as CDC recommends, report cases of syphilis among women of reproductive age in a timely manner and ensure appropriate treatment. Pregnant women should seek prenatal care, get tested, and minimize sexual risk behaviors that could lead to infection. Finally, we encourage state and local health departments to prioritize women and their male sex partners for case investigation and partner services and expand syphilis screening in high-risk setting like jails, emergency departments, etc.


Increase in Incidence of Congenital Syphilis — United States, 2012–2014

MMWR Weekly

November 13, 2015 / 64(44);1241-1245

Virginia Bowen, PhD1,2; John Su, MD, PhD3; Elizabeth Torrone, PhD2; Sarah Kidd, MD2; Hillard Weinstock, MD2

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Dr. Virginia Bowen PhD (2015). Number of Babies Born With Syphilis Rises Sharply 

Last Updated on November 13, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD