Syphilis infections in newborns increased sharply over a two-year period, prompting calls for better disease screening and prenatal care of at-risk women, the federal government said Thursday.
Between 2012 and 2014, cases of congenital syphilis rose from 334 to 458, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This represented a 38 percent increase in the congenital syphilis rate, which was 8.4 cases per 100,000 live births in 2012 but 11.6 cases per 100,000 in 2014.
The 2014 congenital syphilis rate was the highest since 2001.
Congenital syphilis rates increased throughout the country, but especially in the West, where the rate more than doubled from 5.5 cases per 100,000 live births to 12.8 cases per 100,000, the CDC said.
Congenital syphilis is dangerous to babies — in 2014, 25 infants were stillborn, and another eight died within 30 days of delivery, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Of the 458 mothers of infants born with syphilis, 100 did not receive prenatal care, the report noted.
Of the 314 mothers who saw a doctor at least once, 43 percent received no treatment for syphilis and another 30 percent received “inadequate treatment.”
In the United States, even one case of congenital syphilis is “a sentinel event” that reflects “missed opportunities for prevention within public health and health care systems,” the CDC report said.
The agency called for more public health awareness of local syphilis rates, and more testing of women of reproductive age and their male partners for sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis.
Mother-to-infant transmission of syphilis can be prevented or treated with an antibiotic regime.
Separately, the CDC has reported that syphilis is the nation’s third most common sexually transmitted infection — after chlamydia and gonorrhea — with some 17,375 cases reported in 2013.
Between 2012 and 2013, syphilis rates rose 10 percent, to 5.5 cases per 100,000 people, the CDC said in December.
Syphilis can co-occur with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
In recent months, health officials in states like Oregon and Indiana have reported spikes in their cases of syphilis.
An official with the Oregon Health Authority told Associated Press that use of HIV-suppressing medicines appears to have led some people — especially men who have sex with men (MSM) — to be “less careful” about using condoms.
But “even if you don’t transmit HIV, you can transmit syphilis and gonorrhea,” Dr. Sean Schafer told AP.
People deemed at risk for syphilis include MSM, people with HIV, people who use illicit drugs, sex workers, and people who have multiple sex partners.