Syphilis is a disease of old-timers and not a problem any more, right?  Horror stories from the past about people with nasty sores going blind and crazy in old age make the name itself scary.  Unfortunately, the disease is alive and well, so to speak.  People engaging in risky behavior, like unprotected sex with multiple partners, or even unprotected sex with one partner who may not be monogamous are at a high risk for this and other STDs including HIV, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.  For pregnant women any of these STDs can cause severe health issues or death in their unborn children.  Although it is recommended that pregnant women be tested for STDs early in the pregnancy, many health care workers do not follow through and recommend the screenings, or women don’t see the doctor early in pregnancy.

If it’s caught early, treatment with penicillin can halt the progression of syphilis and it’s many horrifying long term consequences.  Syphilis is easily transmitted to unborn babies and can cause late abortions or stillborn babies, as well as congenital syphilis in the baby.  Nearly half of babies infected with syphilis that passes through the mother’s placenta die shortly before or after birth.  The number of cases of syphilis in pregnant women is rising and the children who survive can suffer blindness, deafness, facial deformities and nerve damage.   Receiving treatment early in pregnancy can eliminate the disease in the expectant mother and greatly reduce the chances of congenital syphilis.  A recent study showed that something as simple as training health care workers to urge women to get the screening when they find out they are pregnant can reduce the number of women still positive for syphilis at the birth of their child by almost 20%, saving many lives.

Many women aren’t even aware that they have contracted syphilis so standard testing is critical to preventing babies from suffering and dying.  If you find out you are pregnant, I hope you don’t put off going to the doctor and getting these critical STD tests.  Saving a baby’s life is worth a minor needle prick and some bad news, isn’t it?

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Photo by: Stuart Miles/ –