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Addressing Another Emerging U.S. Epidemic

February 13, 2024

Public health leaders continue to raise alarms about another emerging epidemic in the U.S.

Today, the CDC released a data brief indicating the overall rate of syphilis in mothers giving birth in the United States more than tripled from 2016 to 2022. The data brief comes after the federal government issued a call to action to address rising rates of syphilis in the U.S.

Rates of primary and secondary syphilis reached historic lows during 2001 but have been rising nearly every year since then through 2022, the brief notes.

“These actions we are taking will help ensure we are improving outcomes for birthing parents and newborns,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “We must prevent more deaths caused by congenital syphilis, an entirely preventable disease.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • By the numbers:  From 2017–2022, the rate of syphilis for women of reproductive age and congenital syphilis both increased more than 250 percent, according to the CDC data brief.
    • During 2022, the overall rate of syphilis in mothers giving birth in the U.S. was 280.4 per 100,000 births, a 222 percent increase compared to seven years prior.
  • The issue:  Congenital syphilis is linked with adverse outcomes, including “fetal and neonatal death, low birthweight, preterm birth, and brain and nerve disorders,” the CDC notes.
  • Key trends:  The largest increases in maternal syphilis rates were among American Indian and Alaska Native (783%), White (315%), and Hispanic (243%) mothers.
    • Mothers younger than 20 (290%) and mothers between 30–34 (277%) had the largest increases.
  • Federal action:  The federal government has developed a national task force to respond to the U.S. syphilis and congenital syphilis epidemic.
  • Quotable:  “The congenital syphilis crisis in the United States has skyrocketed at a heartbreaking rate,” CDC Chief Medical Officer Debra Houry, MD, MPH, said in a statement last year.

The CDC data brief is available to review online.