RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued a public health alert after five stillbirths or neonatal deaths were seen in babies with congenital syphilis between Jan. 1 and Sept. 1.
Last week, in a memo, NCDHHS asked healthcare providers for help in preventing congenital syphilis and reversing the alarming trend.
From 2012 to 2022 in North Carolina, there was a 547% increase in reported syphilis cases among women along with an associated increase in congenital syphilis infections, from 1 case in 2012 to 57 cases in 2022.
This increase mirrors a national trend, NCDHHS said.
Congenital syphilis is preventable. But if it is left untreated, syphilis in pregnancy can result in miscarriages, stillbirth and neonatal death, as well as adverse life-long health effects for the baby such as bone damage, severe anemia, enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice, nerve problems causing blindness or deafness, meningitis, or skin rashes.
A review of North Carolina's 2022 congenital syphilis cases identified several areas of concern:
All pregnant women should be screened at least three times during pregnancy, NCDHHS said. Sexually transmitted infections can still be present even if the exposure was in the past and even if there are no symptoms.
In 2022, 86% of pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis in North Carolina did not have symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Symptom-based testing alone would have missed these infections.