Congenital Syphilis in Pregnant Women Rise Due to Lack of Access to Healthcare

A disruption in healthcare services due to COVID has contributed to an increase in syphilis cases in Louisiana.

Pregnant women can pass the disease to their babies through delivery.

ABC 31 News Reporter Keisha Swafford has the story on how women can be proactive in fighting this disease.


Babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from the infection.

Gynecologist and Site Director of Rapides Medical Center Robert DiBenedetto says, “Moms who are infected with syphilis can transmit that infection very easily to the baby that is growing inside of them. The syphilis bacteria are able to get through the placenta and infect the growing fetus early on in pregnancy.”


According to Dr. David Holcombe, 22 cases of congenital syphilis occurred in Rapides Parish in 2021.

The Region 6 Medical Director of Public Health says, “That may not sound like a lot, but actually the number of cases made us the top region in all of Louisiana for congenital syphilis cases. That’s pretty bad.”


According to the CDC, in Louisiana, only 50 percent of women take timely prenatal care and recommended syphilis testing.

Robert N. diBenedetto says, “It’s just a very difficult disease to treat on the pediatric side when it’s a more simple disease on the mom’s side if we can catch it early enough.”


Congenital syphilis is a preventable disease and can be easily treated.

Disease Intervention Supervisor Kenneth Nash says, “We encourage our patients, especially if they are pregnant mothers or expecting mothers just to be tested, stay in care with your OB-GYN, sometimes signs and symptoms, they will be present, sometimes they will not. So, you may or may not if you’re not adequately tested.”


If a baby contracts syphilis, it can have a number of physical deformities.

Holcombe says, “They can have malformations of the teeth and the bones and internal organs. It is really a big problem, so you don’t want to have your child to get congenital syphilis.”


The Department of Public Health says penicillin shots is the most effective way to treat congenital syphilis.

Holcombe says, “The problem is, if they’re not treated during the pregnancy, or they’re treated too close to the birth, then the child is considered positive anyway and has to be treated and that’s IV penicillin for 10 days.”


According to the CDC, sex with multiple partners and drug use can increase the risk of contracting syphilis.

The Rapides Medical Center is focusing on supporting medical students in diagnosing congenital syphilis sooner.