Syphilis on the rise in Philly

A dramatic rise in the number of cases of infectious syphilis among women of childbearing age led the Philadelphia Health Department of alert health-care providers and issue new screening guidelines Wednesday, my colleague Don Sapatkin reported.

The numbers were relatively small: 218 cases in 2009, including 23 among women ages 15 to 29. But that represented 360 percent increase from 2008 among young women, who can transmit the disease to their babies who are at risk of being born with mental retardation and physical deformities such as cleft palate.

Four cases of congenital syphilis were reported in the city last year. Cases of primary and secondary syphilis - the infectious stages - have been increasing around the country in recent years, particularly in big cities and the South.