In a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Arizona has emerged with the highest rate of congenital syphilis cases among all states. The Arizona Department of Health Services has reported a staggering 1,877 cases in females this year alone, with an additional 142 cases documented in infants.

KGUN 9’s Bri Pacelli delves into the issue, speaking with health experts to understand the surge in syphilis cases and its impact on both adults and newborns.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, Director of the Pima County Health Department, expressed the gravity of the situation, stating, “What we’re seeing in Pima County reflects what were seeing nationally, which is a tremendous increase in the number of syphilis cases.”

According to Cullen, Pima County has witnessed a shocking 400% increase in syphilis cases over an eight-year period, spanning from 2015 to the present.

The surge is not limited to adults, as Dr. Sean Elliott, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Tucson Medical Center, highlighted an alarming rise in syphilis cases in newborns. “In the last couple of years, weve actually seen an explosion in cases of syphilis in babies born to mothers with unrecognized, untreated syphilis,” Dr. Elliott warned, with an estimated 50 to 70 cases per year of congenital syphilis.

Even more concerning is the fact that most newborns do not display symptoms. Dr. Elliott emphasized, “95% of these babies have no symptoms whatsoever when theyre born, so all we can find out is testing the mother to identify the risk of transmission.

There were 23 reported cases of pregnant women with syphilis in Pima County this year. Dr. Cullen added, “So in some ways, its an invisible disease.”

Identifying syphilis can be challenging, with symptoms initially presenting as vague. Dr. Cullen explained, “The symptoms can be very vague initially; when you have symptoms, you usually just have a painless sore in your genital area. Sometimes its in your mouth. You may ignore it because its painless and doesnt cause any discomfort.”

Despite the challenges, syphilis is a curable disease, and the Pima County Health Department offers free testing at designated sites. The Pima County Health Department has testing sites you can go to for free. As Arizona grapples with this surge in syphilis cases, health officials are working diligently to raise awareness and provide accessible testing and treatment options.