Cases of congenital syphilis are on the rise around the world, 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 (CDC) recently revealed, for example, that 3,700 babies will be born with congenital syphilis in 2022, a jump of 32% in one year.
The number of stillbirths and newborn deaths attributable to the disease stood at 282, according to the CDC, 16 times more than in 2012.
In 2011, Quebec recorded a first case of congenital syphilis in ten years, according to data analyzed by an expert from the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Six cases were recorded in 2021, the highest number since the establishment of the register of notifiable diseases in 1990. In 2022, a record number of 14 cases of congenital syphilis were noted.
“Syphilis is an old disease that has never completely disappeared,” said Dr. Christos Karatzios, who is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, to explain this resurgence.
“There were always cases in certain populations at risk. There is also an increase in the number [d’infections transmissibles sexuellement] in the world. And with the pandemic, it was more difficult 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 7 in 2017 to 96 in 2021. The European Union, however, reports a slight improvement in the situation in 2020 and in 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, he can have meningitis following syphilis, he can be deaf, it can affect the bones, especially the bones of the legs, he can have a malformation of the teeth,” he listed. [La syphilis] can also destroy the bone between the two nostrils and the nose collapses. »
It is therefore crucial, he continues, for family doctors and even obstetrician-gynecologists not to miss any chance of identifying women infected with syphilis, even if the rarity of the disease may lead to a lack of familiarity on their part. .
We should also not lose sight of the fact that the disease affects disadvantaged populations more strongly, for whom access to health care may be more complicated, said Dr. Karatzios — the same goes for some migrants who arrive from countries where screening and care are not comparable to what we find here.
In several of the cases recorded in Quebec between 2016 and 2019, indicates a document from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the mother had received insufficient care during her pregnancy, which had prevented detection of the disease or led to screening late.
“It’s an emerging disease,” warned Dr. Karatzios.