Texas leads the nation for babies born with syphilis, CDC says

An alarming report from the CDC reveals an increasing number of babies are being born with syphilis.

The CDC recently released a report revealing congenital syphilis cases increased by 32% between the years 2020 and 2021, and Texas accounted for the highest number of cases with nearly 700 congenital syphilis births reported. 

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"Texas, like a lot of southern states, is experiencing a surge in STI's, in particular syphilis. The reason why I believe this is happening is that it's kind of a quiet infection," said Dr. Irene Stafford, Maternal-Fetal Medicine Doctor with UTHealth & Memorial Hermann. 

Congenital syphilis is when a mother passes the infection to her unborn baby. According to the CDC, the rise in these cases resulted in at least 220 stillbirths and infant deaths. And even if the child survives, there can be serious health consequences.

"Blood problems, bone problems, liver problems, and some babies can have neuro-syphilis where it goes to the central nervous system," Stafford explained. 


Stafford says there's been an increase in syphilis, and other STDs in general, and she notes that some communities are at a greater risk than others.

"It disproportionately affects minorities and the underserved, and we know for a fact these communities in Houston have been disproportionately affected," Stafford said. 

Stafford also says while congenital syphilis is a concerning and growing problem, there's a simple solution. 

"It can be completely treated with just a simple shot of penicillin in pregnant individuals, so the most important thing to prevent congenital syphilis and the infection is to just get screened, tested, and treated," Stafford said. 

She says early prenatal care is essential, pregnant women should be screened for syphilis at the beginning and later in their pregnancy. But she emphasizes everyone who is sexually active should be getting screened.  

See the list below for free and low-cost STD STI testing clinics in the Houston area: