Cases of congenital syphilis are on the rise

Cases of congenital syphilis are on the rise worldwide, a situation that can have catastrophic consequences for the health of the mother and her baby, experts warn.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revealed, for example, that 3,700 babies will be born with congenital syphilis by 2022, a 32% jump in one year.

The number of deaths or newborn deaths attributable to the disease stood at 282, according to the CDC, 16 times more than in 2012.

In 2011, Quebec recorded its first case of congenital syphilis in ten years, according to data analyzed by an expert at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Six cases were reported in 2021, the highest number since the establishment of the notifiable disease registry in 1990. A record 14 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2022.

“Syphilis is an old disease that has never completely gone away,” said Dr. Christos Karatzios, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, explaining this resurgence in the number of cases.

“There were always cases in certain at-risk populations. There is also an increase in the number (of sexually transmitted infections) worldwide. And with the pandemic, it was harder to see a doctor if there was a problem. »

Quebec still has one of the lowest prevalence rates in Canada, he stressed.

A document published in December 2022 by Health Canada reveals that the number of cases of congenital syphilis across the country increased from seven in 2017 to 96 in 2021. The European Union, however, reports a slight improvement in the situation on 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019, mainly due to a reduction in the number of infections in Bulgaria and Portugal.

A syphilis infection can have catastrophic consequences for the baby that can lead to death, Dr. Karatzios warned.

“The baby can be blind, it can have meningitis after syphilis, it can be deaf, it can affect the bones, especially the bones of the legs, it can have a malformation of the teeth,” he listed. (Syphilis) can also destroy the bone between the two nostrils and the nose collapses. »

Therefore, he continues, it is crucial that family physicians and even obstetricians-gynecologists miss no opportunity to identify women infected with syphilis, even though the rarity of the disease may lead to a lack of familiarity on their part.

We must also not lose sight of the fact that the disease affects more severely disadvantaged populations for whom access to health care may be more complicated, said Dr. Karatzios — the same is true of some migrants who arrive — countries where screening and attention are not comparable to what we find here.

In several of the cases registered in Quebec between 2016 and 2019, a document from the Public Health Agency of Canada indicates, the mother had received insufficient care during pregnancy, which had prevented the detection of the disease or caused a late screening.

“It’s an emerging disease,” warned Dr. Karatzios.

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