STD Awareness: What Does “Congenital Syphilis” Mean?

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis

Congenital syphilis, for centuries a leading cause of infant mortality, is often thought of as an antique affliction, relegated to history books — but it is on the rise again. Between 2012 and 2014, there was a spike in congenital syphilis rates, which increased by 38 percent and are now the highest they’ve been in the United States since 2001. As of 2014, the last year for which we have data, more babies were born with syphilis than with HIV.

The word “congenital” simply means that the baby was born with syphilis after being infected in the womb. When an expecting mother has syphilis, the bacteria that cause the disease can cross the placenta to infect the fetus — and will do so 70 percent of the time. As many as 40 percent of babies infected with syphilis during pregnancy will be stillborn or will die soon after birth. It can also cause rashes, bone deformities, severe anemia, jaundice, blindness, and deafness. Congenital syphilis is especially tragic because it’s almost completely preventable, especially when expecting mothers have access to adequate prenatal care and antibiotics. Penicillin is 98 percent effective in preventing congenital syphilis when it is administered at the appropriate time and at the correct dosage.


More babies are being born with syphilis — but this trend can be reversed with wider access to prenatal care.


Incidence of congenital syphilis is growing across all regions of the country, but rates are highest in the South, followed by the West. Rates have also been increasing across ethnic groups, but, compared to white mothers, congenital syphilis rates are more than 10 times higher among African-American mothers and more than 3 times higher among Latina mothers, illustrating the need to increase access to prenatal care for all expecting mothers — and to ensure that this prenatal care is adequate.

Anyone receiving prenatal care should be screened for syphilis at their first visit, and some pregnant people — including those at increased risk or in areas where congenital syphilis rates are high — should be screened a second time at the beginning of the third trimester and again at delivery. Continue reading

STD MANageMENt

guys“Hey man, when was the last time you were screened?” Never have I heard those words from any of my male friends.

Unlike my female friends, who I have overheard discussing the safety and health of their sex lives, men seem to avoid conversations like that. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent studies on some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) show that while female rates for these STDs either remained the same or declined, men’s infection rates increased, especially with syphilis. Men made up 91 percent of all reported primary and secondary syphilis cases reported during the study.


Don’t stick your head in the sand: Get yourself tested!


Though women are at higher risk of contracting STDs due to their anatomy, their infection rates are dropping while men’s are rising. So what is causing the increase in male STD incidence, and what can we do to fix it?

One of the possible issues is that, on average, women see the doctor more often than men. Young people are notorious for not getting their annual checkups with their primary care physicians since they are usually healthy. That, combined with the lack of gender-specific male doctors, really leaves no incentive for men to go to the doctor. Continue reading