LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Health officials addressed concern over a rise in syphilis cases found among women in Southern California over the last two years.

On Monday, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced there has been an increase of cases found among women, pregnant women and newborns since 2012.

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“The increase in congenital syphilis is particularly concerning,” said CDPH Director and State Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. “Congential syphilis occurs when syphilis is transmitted from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy. It is a needless tragedy that can be prevented with good prenatal care and timely and effective treatment.”

Most of the cases have been reported within Los Angeles County and the Central Valley.

According to the CDPH, the annual number of early cases has more than doubled to 594 cases reported each year. The number of those who are affected by congenital syphilis has more than tripled to 100 cases per year.

Health officials added syphilitic stillbirths have also increased from one to six cases yearly.

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“When women do not receive proper prenatal care, they’re missing a crucial opportunity to be screened for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases,” Smith added. “It is vital that pregnant women get comprehensive prenatal care, including getting tested for STDs, to avoid transmitting infections to their babies.”

The increasing trend appears to have continued into this year, officials explained.

A cause for the increase of congenital cases has not yet been identified. However, the sexually transmitted disease is often associated with lack of access to health care and poverty.

If left untreated, it can lead to blindness, brain damage and threaten the life of a baby, health officials said.

CDPH officials are working with local health departments to reach out to infected pregnant women to ensure treatment, identify causes and intensify efforts to follow-up on cases involving women of childbearing age.

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