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July 8, 2020

Mass DPH warns of major congenital syphilis spike, recommends screening during third-trimester pregnancy

Photo | SHNS Marylou Sudders, the Massachusetts secretary of health and human services

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is warning practitioners of a major spike in congenital syphilis, with more than twice as many babies born with the sexually transmitted infection last year than at any other point in the past two decades.

With syphilis rates across the state soaring, the DPH is now recommending universal screening for the infection in moms early in the third trimester, in addition to routine syphilis screening performed at the first prenatal visit. The department sent an advisory to maternal and newborn health care providers statewide on June 30.

Infectious syphilis rates in Massachusetts have increased 12-fold in men and eight-fold in women of reproductive age in the past two decades, according to DPH. Despite close follow-up of cases of syphilis in pregnant women and their partners, the department said, cases of congenital syphilis have been found even with prenatal treatment.

DPH counted nine cases last year of congenital syphilis cases, meaning babies were born with the infection. Only one had been counted in the previous two years, and 21 cases in the past two decades.

Such cases have also been on the rise nationally, the state said.

Infection rates for women of reproductive age in Massachusetts was 8.2 per 100,000 last year, according to the state. It had never risen above 5.6 in the past two decades, and was as low as 1.3 a decade prior.

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