MONROE, Conn. (WTNH) — Some shocking headlines have come out this week — cases of babies being born with syphilis in the United States are climbing fast.
It is a condition that can be devastating and even deadly for a baby. Syphilis is also preventable through testing and treatable in pregnant women if it is caught early.
“It’s a terrible sign of the times,” said Dr. Marliyn Smith, a pediatrician at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.
Smith has not seen any cases in her practice, but she saw a baby with deformities from being born with syphilis in her medical training.
According to the CDC, newborn syphilis cases spiked almost 30% from 2021 to 2022.
Smith says that the public health concern over the years shifted from testing for syphilis to conditions such as hepatitis and HIV.
For decades, syphilis testing for couples was mandatory in the U.S. to get a marriage license, but few tested positive, and testing was costly, so requirements ended.
Syphilis testing is still legally required in pregnant women in most states, including Connecticut.
“When it’s caught really early in the first trimester, it’s pretty simple; they get one dose of this special penicillin, and that’s it. But women can get re-infected by their partners,” Smith said.
An unborn baby can still be protected late if a woman gets treated in her third trimester 30 days before a baby is born.
Smith says syphilis can cause stillborn babies and physical and intellectual disabilities. However, some women don’t get the prenatal care and testing needed.
Smith would like to see the simple blood test screen done whenever a pregnant woman is treated anywhere, not just at the obstetrician’s office. For example, she would like it done in an emergency room or a drug clinic.