NEW YORK (PIX11) – Sexually Transmitted Infections are increasing in New York City and across the country, and one of the hardest hit populations is among the most vulnerable — newborns. 

Congenital Syphilis (CS) is an STI that occurs when a mother becomes infected and passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy.

Congenital Syphilis can have devastating outcomes for a mother and her child. Mothers can suffer from miscarriage and stillbirth pregnancies. Babies born with CS can suffer from premature birth as well as brain and nerve problems and could die shortly after birth, according to health officials. 

Congenital Syphilis diagnoses in New York have been increasing since 2016, data from the state Health Department shows. In 2021 there were 41 cases reported in the state, up from 29 cases in 2020.

In New York City, 24 babies were born with Congenital Syphilis in 2021, an increase from 17 cases in 2020, according to data from the New York City Health Department.

Nationally, a total of 3,761 cases of Congenital Syphilis were recorded in 2022, according to CDC data. This included 231 stillbirths, 3,530 infants born with CS, and 51 infant deaths throughout the United States. 

The nationwide count was the most in more than 30 years, CDC officials said. 

In more than half of the CS cases, the mothers tested positive during pregnancy but did not get properly treated, according to officials. 

Medical providers are also having trouble getting their hands on benzathine penicillin injections, which is the main course of treatment to combat the infection.

“It is clear that something is not working here, that something has to change,” Dr. Laura Bachmann, with the CDC, said. “That’s why we’re calling for exceptional measures to address this heartbreaking epidemic.”

The CDC urgently recommended that medical providers start syphilis treatment when a pregnant woman first tests positive.

“The Congenital Syphilis epidemic is an unacceptable American crisis. All pregnant mothers regardless of who they are or where they live deserve access to care that protects them and their babies from preventable disease,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., and director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “Our nation should be proactive and think beyond the OB/GYN’s office and bridge prevention gaps. Every encounter a healthcare provider has with a patient during pregnancy is an opportunity to prevent Congenital Syphilis.”

This story comprises reporting from The Associated Press

Matthew Euzarraga is a multimedia journalist from El Paso, Texas. He has covered local news and LGBTQIA topics in the New York City Metro area since 2021. He joined the PIX11 Digital team in 2023. You can see more of his work here.