Health

California congenital syphilis cases increasing

California health officials report that the number of mothers who passed on syphyilis to their babies tripled over a two-year period.
California health officials report that the number of mothers who passed on syphyilis to their babies tripled over a two-year period.
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures/Flickr Creative Commons

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State health officials are raising an alarm over a recent increase in congenital syphilis cases.

The number of infected moms who passed the sexually transmitted disease onto their babies during pregnancy more than tripled over a two-year period, health officials reported. They say it appears the number of cases is continuing to increase this year, too.

Most of the congenital syphilis cases occurred in the Central Valley and Los Angeles County.

Congenital syphilis "is a needless tragedy that can be prevented with good prenatal care and timely and effective treatment," Dr. Karen Smith, the state health officer, said in a news release.

The annual number of reported congenital syphilis cases increased from 30 to 100 between 2012 and 2014, according to the California Department of Public Health. Syphilitic stillbirths also increased from one case in 2012 to six cases in 2014.

The annual number of reported early syphilis cases among women more than doubled from 248 to 594 cases during that same time period. 

State health officials say they don't know what's causing the increase in congenital syphilis. They say the disease is linked to poverty and a lack of access to health care; most of the women who passed the infection onto their babies did not receive adequate or timely prenatal care.

"When women do not receive proper prenatal care, they're missing a crucial opportunity to be screened for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases," Smith said. "It is vital that pregnant women get comprehensive prenatal care, including getting tested for STDs, to avoid transmitting infections to their babies."

Pregnant women infected with syphilis can have low-birth weight babies and are more likely to deliver premature or stillborn babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An infected baby can be born without signs of the disease. But if the disease goes untreated, the babies can develop cataracts, deafness or seizures, and could die, according to the CDC.