By Maricopa County Public Health 

Last year, 30 babies in Maricopa County were born with congenital syphilis (CS), a preventable disease that occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy. Five of these babies died as a result of this disease. Overall Maricopa County is almost 60% higher than the national average and has beat the average for the last decade. 

“The increase in congenital syphilis rates is directly attributed to an increase in syphilis among both men and women and a failure to screen for syphilis during pregnancy,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for Disease Control at Maricopa County Public Health. “That is why it is vital that physicians pay attention to the screening requirements; testing at the first prenatal visit, and again at the third trimester and birth. The only way we will reduce these community rates is with this aggressive screening and treatment.” 

“Syphilis can be treated and cured with just penicillin, but you have to know it’s there to treat it,” Sunenshine added. 

Arizona Revised Statute A.R.S.36-693 requires providers to test all pregnant women for syphilis at the time of the first prenatal care visit. Due to the high rates of congenital syphilis in Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) has issued a Public Health Order for providers to test pregnant women for syphilis in the third trimester (28-32 weeks) to ensure effective treatment of both mother and child. A third syphilis test is also recommended at delivery to identify any missed cases of congenital syphilis. 

All reactive syphilis tests must be reported to the MCDPH STD Program by the provider. Pregnant individuals without access to prenatal care are encouraged to visit the MCDPH STD Clinic at 1645 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ, 85006 or visit STDAZ.com for other low-cost testing options. 

For more information and for testing recommendations, please visit WeArePublicHealth.org Opens a New Window. 

Additional Information: 

Congenital syphilis can cause 

  • Miscarriage (losing the baby during pregnancy), 
  • Stillbirth (a baby born dead), 
  • Prematurity (a baby born early), 
  • Low birth weight, or 
  • Death shortly after birth. 
  • Up to 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from the infection as a newborn. 
  • For babies born with CS, CS can cause: 
  • Deformed bones, 
  • Severe anemia (low blood count), 
  • Enlarged liver and spleen, 
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), 
  • Brain and nerve problems, like blindness or deafness, 
  • Meningitis, and 
  • Skin Rashes 

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