The Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Epidemiological Review of Syphilis in the Americas makes an active call on countries and health professionals to fight this preventable and curable infection that affects thousands in the region every year.
The report estimates that about 4.6 million people in the region have syphilis. It also reports 29,147 confirmed cases of congenital syphilis in 2020 and potentially 30,000 cases in 2021. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause neurological, cardiovascular and dermatological disorders in adults. It can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth. Syphilis can cause miscarriage, fetal death or death shortly after birth, premature birth or severe disabilities in the newborn.
"The number of people affected remains unacceptably high for a disease that should no longer exist," said Marcos Espinal, Acting Deputy Director, PAHO. "We must redouble our efforts as a society to cut the chains of transmission and stop syphilis from spreading, both in vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and newborns. Treatment is available and affordable.”
Over the years, many countries around the world have vowed to take action against this disease. During the 2016 World Health Assembly, UN members established the goal to reduce syphilis by 90 percent between 2018 and 2030 and to reduce congenital transmissions to less than 50 per 100,000 live births. In America, congenital syphilis affects 200 children per 100,000 births.
“All women should be tested at the first antenatal visit, before the 20th week and in the third trimester of pregnancy, and positive women and their babies should be treated immediately with penicillin to prevent transmission. If the test has not been done during pregnancy, it should be done at delivery,” explained Rodolfo Gómez Ponce de León, Regional Advisor in Sexual and Reproductive Health, PAHO. He added that couples test “to avoid reinfection.”
In Mexico, syphilis cases increased by 82.3 percent in 2021, with 3,848 cases reported in 2020 while 7,015 cases were reported the following year, according to the National System of Epidemiologic Surveillance.
PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend the use of rapid point-of-care tests to identify syphilis and HIV simultaneously and improve opportunities for diagnosis and treatment. However, only seven countries in the Americas currently use them.