Congenital Syphilis: L.A. County Repeatedly Fails to Act, says AHF

In Featured, News by Ged Kenslea


The Los Angeles Times reports the number of congenital syphilis cases in L.A. skyrocketed to 113 in 2020, which AHF believes may be low after L.A. County moved public health staff to work on COVID-19   

For the last decade, AHF aggressively promoted syphilis awareness, prevention and treatment, including ringing the alarm about congenital syphilis as far back as 2017, ‘18 and ’19 with County officials and the public, including a billboard campaign headlined ‘Syphilis Can Be Fatal to Your Baby,’ after cases exploded from 6 in 2012 in L.A. County to 44 cases in 2017

LOS ANGELES (September 20, 2021) AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), today sharply criticized Los Angeles County officials for its repeated failure to adequately address the tragedy of congenital syphilis in the county over the past decade despite growing evidence—and repeated warnings by AHF and others—on the crisis.


AHF’s rebuke comes on the news of a yet another dramatic spike in congenital syphilis cases in the County as reported in a front-page Los Angeles Times story today.  The Times’ story notes “Nine years ago, only six cases were reported across L.A. County, according to a Department of Public Health report. Last year, that number reached 113.”  Previously, cases of congenital syphilis in L.A. County exploded from 6 in 2012 (a twelve-year low) to 44 cases in 2017—a sevenfold increase (Patch N. Hollywood/Toluca Lake, CA, May 15, 2018).


For more than a decade, AHF aggressively promoted syphilis awareness, prevention and treatment via independent public service awareness & billboard campaigns and news releases in Los Angeles. AHF actions included ringing the alarm about congenital syphilis as far back as 2017, 2018 and 2019 with County Health officials and the public, including a striking L.A. area billboard campaign headlined “Syphilis Can Be Fatal Your Baby.” (Up in Los Angeles from Nov. 2019 – March 2020).


“We bear witness yet again to another and unforgivable increase in congenital syphilis cases in Los Angeles—an avoidable, heart-rending tragedy that Los Angeles County has, essentially, done nothing about for years and years,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “These numbers and the real lives—and sometimes deaths—of the babies and mothers they represent demand an immediate, greatly stepped-up response by County Health officials. Somehow, L.A. County must now vastly increase the availability of prevention education, testing and treatment for syphilis.”


And shocking as these numbers are, they are likely low, after L.A. County officials redeployed most public health staff to its all-hands-on-deck response to COVID-19 in 2020 and throughout 2021.


As part of its advocacy around syphilis, AHF also ran a ‘Syphilis is Serious’ billboard campaign (February 2018). All billboards drove the public to AHF’s website to learn more about the disease and find locations to access free STD testing and affordable care for the treatment of syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia through AHF.









The “Syphilis Can Be Fatal Your Baby” and “Syphilis is Serious” billboards were a follow up to AHF’s groundbreaking “Syphilis Explosion” outdoor advertising campaign which first started running in 2014. That campaign was followed by AHF’s “Syphilis Tsunami” campaign which ran in Los Angeles in 2016 and was complemented by a digital media campaign to draw attention to the national syphilis epidemic, including a shortage of a key drug to treat it. AHF put pressure on the drug company, Pfizer, to supply Bicillin L-A, a key syphilis medication—and the only treatment recommended for congenital syphilis patients—in quantities that meet the growing demand for treatment.


To find locations for free STD/HIV screening, visit

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