Newborn syphilis cases increase in Colorado

Justin Tarr, Communications Project Manager | 303-691-4012 |
DENVER — In addition to steep, sustained increases in other sexually transmitted infections, Colorado is experiencing more cases of syphilis in newborns, according to newly released data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
A total of 18 cases of congenital syphilis were reported from 2013 through October 2018, with an accelerating trend in recent years.
“Colorado’s case numbers still are small, but even one case of syphilis in a newborn is too many,” said Dr. Daniel Shodell, deputy director of the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at the department.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is an 80 percent chance an untreated mother with syphilis will pass the disease to her baby. The increase in cases emphasizes the importance of appropriate care for all women during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at their first prenatal visit, and those at high risk of infection should get tested again early in the third trimester and at delivery.
“At worst, the disease can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or death shortly after birth. It also can cause severe, lifelong health problems. The good news is we can cure syphilis in pregnant women with the right antibiotics, preventing the infection from being passed to infants,” said Shodell.
The state health department is taking a number of actions to address this concern:
  • Prioritizing disease investigation and partner services among women of childbearing age.
  • Following up with all pregnant women with syphilis until shortly after delivery to ensure they and their infants have received appropriate evaluation, treatment and services.
  • Increasing education and outreach to health care providers to further expand screening, testing and follow-up.
Congenital syphilis cases across the country have more than doubled since 2013, rising to 918 in 2017, according to the CDC. In Colorado there was one case in 2013, rising to five in 2017.
Colorado also mirrors national trends with continued increases in other sexually transmitted infections. There was a 5.6 percent increase in chlamydia from 2016-2017 (25,569 to 26,995 cases); a 41.9 percent increase in gonorrhea (5,975 to 8,478 cases) and a 10.5 percent increase in all stages of syphilis for all age groups (740 to 818 cases). Untreated sexually transmitted infections can cause an increased risk of HIV, long-term pelvic or abdominal pain, and infertility or pregnancy complications. More information on Colorado cases is available in the Sexually Transmitted Infections in Colorado: 2017 Annual Report.
"All these infections are curable, but too many people are falling through the cracks,” Shodell said. “We urge people to use condoms, talk to their partners and health care providers about STIs and sexual health, get tested and get treatment.”