Houston Health Department

Houston Health Department urges action as fetal deaths linked to congenital syphilis surge in Houston-area

April 27, 2021

HOUSTON - The Houston Health Department urges expectant mothers to act now as fetal deaths linked to congenital syphilis surge in the Houston-area.

Preliminary data indicate that fetal deaths in Harris County (including Houston) increased from four in 2019 to 14 in 2020, a 250-percent increase.

“These deaths are completely preventable with simple testing and treatment,” said Beau Mitts, chief of the department’s bureau of HIV/STD and Viral Hepatitis Prevention. “Even more concerning, all fetal deaths in Harris County over the past two years were Black or Hispanic, highlighting stark disparities in testing and treatment.”

More babies are born with congenital syphilis in the Houston-area than any other part of the state.

The health department’s “My Prenatal Promise” campaign urges pregnant women, especially women of color, to get tested to protect their babies from congenital syphilis. The campaign emphasizes the importance of prenatal care and getting tested three times for syphilis during pregnancy, as required by Texas state law.

“My Prenatal Promise” emphasizes three actions for expectant mothers:

  • Talk to your doctor and ask about syphilis.
  • Test for syphilis three times during pregnancy as required.
  • Treat you and your partner right away if diagnosed with syphilis.

The number of syphilis cases among pregnant mothers in Houston and Harris County also continues to increase. There was a 43-percent rise in cases from 2018 (104 cases) to 2019 (149 cases). Women ages 15-44 in Houston and Harris County accounted for 89-percent of all female syphilis cases in 2019. Texas ranked first for total congenital syphilis cases reported in the United States in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Please join the Houston Health Department in the commitment to end congenital syphilis in Houston and Harris County,” Mitts continued.

The health department invites current and expectant mothers, as well as their support system, to visit MyPrenatalPromise.com to make a personal “My Prenatal Pledge” to prevent congenital syphilis by ensuring women receive testing and treatment for syphilis.