Congenital Syphilis Cases on the Rise in the St. Louis Region

by | Dec 5, 2023 | Blog, In the Media, News

Dr. Kanika Cunningham, Director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health (DPH), and Dr. Brett Emo, Chief Operating Officer of DPH’s Communicable Disease Response Division gave a presentation Nov. 8 about congenital syphilis and sexual health to Generate Health’s Ambassador Board.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is largely treatable, but it causes damage to the heart, brain and other organs and can become life-threatening if not treated. This infection is particularly concerning in pregnant people, as it can be passed to the fetus – a condition called congenital syphilis. Approximately 40% of babies born to a parent with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection as a newborn.

Congenital syphilis cases have been rising in the St. Louis region. From 2020-2022, 56 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in St. Louis City and County. This is a higher number of cases than in the previous 20 years combined (47 cases were reported between 1999-2019). This is consistent with an increase in STIs incidence nationally. Further, syphilis has a disproportionate impact on St. Louis’ Black community, which already has higher rates of maternal and infant mortality than their non-Black counterparts.

Following the presentation by Drs. Cunningham and Emo, members of Generate Health’s Ambassador Board discussed the need to engage the youth in the St. Louis region with sex education and reproductive health. Members of the audience specifically proposed that local health systems partner with schools, create peer groups, involve parents, and expand existing programs like Girls Holla Back in order to share accurate information about contraception, sexual relationships, and reproductive health with young people.

In a clinical setting, DPH recommends taking the following course of action to prevent congenital syphilis:

  • Screen all pregnant patients for syphilis and treat those who test positive. Perform additional screening during the third trimester and at delivery.
  • Any person of childbearing potential who tests positive for syphilis should also be screened for pregnancy
  • Test and treat sex partners
  • Provide education on reducing risk, such as proper condom use
  • When ordering chlamydia and gonorrhea testing, order syphilis and HIV testing as well
  • Follow up with patients to ensure treatment is effective

The St. Louis region has many health clinics that offer low cost/no cost and confidential STI testing. DPH’s Sexual Health Clinic provides free testing and treatment for STIs, including syphilis, and accepts walk-ins from 8AM – 3:30PM, M-F. In addition, DPH’s new linkage to care program is available to both medical providers and the public. Its purpose is to connect people who have syphilis or are at risk for syphilis with testing, treatment, partner services, and more. To access the linkage to care program, please call (314) 615-9717.

This story has been published in collaboration with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 16). National overview of STDs, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

St. Louis County Department of Public Health. (2023, October). Sexually Transmitted Infections Annual Surveillance Report 2022.

Vanden Berg, K. (2023, November 3). Health advisory: Increased incidence of HIV and syphilis co-infection among Missourians of child-bearing potential.,Louis.&text=A%20marked%20increase%20in%20syphilis,of%20congenital%20syphilis%20(CS).


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