Congenital syphilis kills 3 babies in Duval County in 2 months

Disease passed from mother to baby treatable if caught in prenatal visits

By Brittany Muller - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At least three babies in Duval County have died from congenital syphilis within the past year -- either stillborn or during pregnancy.

In those cases, the babies' mothers passed syphilis on to them and did not receive prenatal care, health officials said.

Eight out of 10 pregnant women who have untreated syphilis will pass it on to their babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said the sexually transmitted disease can lead to stillbirth or death of a newborn in up to 40 percent of affected pregnancies. 

ONLINE: CDC information on congenital syphilis |
Florida Department of Health CS fact sheet

Last year, 918 cases of syphilis were reported among newborns. Arizona, California, Louisiana, Texas and Florida led the country in congenital syphilis cases, accounting for 70 percent of cases last year.

If a woman is screened early on in her pregnancy, these tragedies can be prevented.

Congenital syphilis cases have more than doubled in the U.S. since 2013. Between 2015 and 2017, syphilis in Duval County increased by 53 percent but for women of childbearing ages (15-44), the county saw an 88 percent increase in reported syphilis cases. 

Duval County went from one reported case of congenital syphilis in 2015 to nine reported cases in 2017. Currently, the county is on track to meet or exceed the number of reported cases for 2017. 

The disease affects a baby’s health, depending on how long a woman has had syphilis and if or when she received treatment:

Congenital syphilis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. Babies born with congenital syphilis can suffer deformed bones, severe anemia and brain and nerve problems.

But the disease can be treated and cured if it is caught during a prenatal visit. During the first prenatal visit, an expectant mother is checked for syphilis with a blood test.

"We do a full range of screening, including a screening for syphilis," said Dr. Pauline Rolle with the Department of Health in Duval County. "Then between 28 and 32 weeks they're screened again and then again at delivery."

If the woman tests positive, she can be treated and cured with penicillin to prevent fetal infection and stillbirth. 

A free service in Duval County called Healthy Start is available to every expectant mother and provides essential services for mothers and infants. For more information, go to floridahealth.gov.

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