Resurgence Of Congenital Syphilis In Washoe County

Aug 18, 2016


Photo from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Washoe County has seen an alarming emergence of congenital syphilis. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray explains.

Congenital syphilis is a bacterial STD passed from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy.

Angela Penny is a public health nurse with the Washoe County Health District and says there has been four cases of congenital syphilis since the end of 2014. Infections while treatable, can also be life-threatening.


“Outcomes include fetal demise, which is the death of an unborn baby, neonatal deaths, so death shortly after birth,” Penny explains, “they can have long-term health problems including deafness and neurological problems and also bone deformities.”

The typical treatment in babies is to administer penicillin intravenously. Penny attributes the resurgence of congenital syphilis to a spike in infections in the general population.

“It started rearing its ugly head in the population of men-who-have-sex-with-men,” Penny says. “So what we’re seeing is just because of the increase and the inevitable jump to the heterosexual population; we now have congenital syphilis.”

Nevada is ranked 7th in the country for the rate of syphilis infections.