The number of babies born infected with syphilis in the United States has more than doubled since 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a report released Tuesday, the CDC said the number of cases of congenital syphilis, in which the disease is passed from the mother to the baby, increased 153 percent — from 362 in 2013 to 918 in 2017.
"When a baby gets syphilis, it means the system has failed that mother repeatedly, both before and during her pregnancy," said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors.
"If STD prevention programs had anywhere near the support they need, no new mom would ever have to cope with this devastating diagnosis," he said.
Syphilis is easily treatable with antibiotics. But when untreated in the mother, it increases the risk of miscarriage and newborn death. Children born with the disease can suffer severe health consequences, including deformed bones, blindness or deafness.
About 70 percent of the cases of congenital syphilis in the U.S. over the span studied were found in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas.
Harvey said women should be tested before becoming pregnant, soon after becoming pregnant, and throughout the pregnancy.
One-third of the mothers who gave birth to babies with congenital syphilis had been tested. But the tests were performed too late in their pregnancies to prevent the infection of the fetuses, or the women became infected after being tested.
"That we have any cases of syphilis among newborns, let alone an increasing number, is a failure of the health care system," Harvey said.
Congenital syphilis is only a part of the nation's growing STD crisis. According to the CDC, the three most easily treatable sexually transmitted diseases — chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — rose nearly 10 percent in 2017 to an all-time high of nearly 2.3 million cases. That eclipsed the previous record total from 2016 by more than 200,000 cases.