State is seeing rise in infants diagnosed with syphilis

A new state epidemiology report notes that congenital syphilis (CS) is on the rise in Alaska, with 26 cases identified from 2018 through 2022, including one probable syphilitic stillbirth case.

All the babies were born in a hospital to mothers age 16 to 37 years of age. Most of the mothers were Anchorage residents. 

CS is where the mother passes the syphilis infection on to their baby during pregnancy.

Of the 26 mothers who gave birth to an infant with CS, 15, or 58%, were identified as Alaska Native or American Indian only on the infant’s birth certificate, the report said.

Mutable factors in these cases included limited or no prenatal care, substance use, and housing instability. The report said most of these mothers reported using heroin, amphetamine, methamphetamine, or cocaine within 12 months of these cases being investigated.

State statutes maintain that patients must be tested for syphilis during their first prenatal care visit, unless they do not consent.


An earlier report from the state Department of Health issued in November of 2022 said that in 2021 a total of 447 cases of syphilis, including congenital, were reported. This was a 24% increase from 2020. The report said most of these cases occurred in people who self-identified as heterosexual, and those living in urban environments, 29% of whom were homeless or in unstable housing. Roughly half of these 2021 cases were in women and nearly 90% of them were of reproductive age.

The report also noted that syphilis cases are rising nationally. Contributing factors included substance abuse, poverty, stigma around the disease, and unstable housing, which can reduce access to prevention and care.

Alaska has some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, in the country.