RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — The deaths of multiple infants is causing the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to issue a public health alert.

There have been five cases of stillbirths or neonatal deaths as a result of congenital syphilis from Jan. 1 to Sept. 1 of this year, according to NCDHSS.

NCDHHS has issued a provider memo asking providers to work to prevent congenital syphilis and help reverse this “alarming” trend.

The increase in syphilis cases in North Carolina, where 57 cases were reported in 2022 compared to only one case reported ten years prior in 2012, mirrors a national trend of rising cases of the sexually transmitted infection that the CDC has previously reported.

This is a preventable disease, but if syphilis is left untreated in pregnant women, it can have life-long adverse health impacts on babies, like bone damage, anemia, jaundice, blindness or deafness or skin rashes. It can also lead to miscarriages and stillbirths.

“Public health agencies review each case of congenital syphilis in the state to understand why the infections were not prevented. A review of North Carolina’s 2022 congenital syphilis cases identified the following missed opportunities:

  • Little to no prenatal care
  • Missed opportunities to test women during pregnancy, as required by North Carolina’s Public Health Law
  • Inadequate or delayed treatment of the maternal syphilis infection.”

NCDHHS says that anyone should be screened at least three times of the course of a pregnancy, even if they have no symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection.

“In 2022, 86% of pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis in North Carolina did not have symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Symptom-based testing alone would have missed these infections.”

“This is one of multiple ongoing efforts by NCDHHS to address the increase in syphilis. Other recent initiatives include convening a Southeast Congenital Syphilis Payers Summit to identify policy levers payers can use to address this growing epidemic. NCDHHS will continue efforts to raise awareness and address this issue with a provider education campaign; a public education campaign to spread awareness of syphilis and the importance of testing, so pregnant women and the people who love them have access to information and treatment; and increasing access to syphilis testing by distributing point-of-care tests. You can find more information on this on the NCDHHS Public Health website.”