Syphilis and Pregnancy

June 11, 2008

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are dangerous no matter when you get them. They can be quite uncomfortable and can lead to serious health problems.  These issues are even more pronounced if you are pregnant.  One STD, Syphilis, can cause many problems and complications to both you and your baby.  Learn more about Syphilis, how to treat it if pregnant, and how to prevent it from happening again.

An Overview of Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that one usually gets as a result of sexual contact.  There are over 6000 cases reported in the United States each year.  Syphilis occurs in three distinct stages.  First, there is an open sore which can either be found internally or externally and is usually on the genitals.  If the disease isn't treated at this stage, it can progress and can cause fever, hair loss, swollen glands, a sore throat and a rash.  If it goes untreated for a longer period of time, the severe consequences of Syphilis can be dementia, blindness and permanent problems with the nervous system.

Syphilis During Pregnancy

If you have Syphilis while you are pregnant, your baby can become infected through the placenta.  Your baby can also become infected during delivery as it passes through the birthing canal.  If you are treated early, both you and the baby should be fine and you should experience a full recovery.  If you don't get treated, however, there is a good chance that your baby will become infected.  The disease is the most infectious during the early stages, so it doesn't take much for the baby to be infected.  Researchers have found that approximately 2-5% of pregnant women who have untreated Syphilis at its early stage experience a miscarriage, a stillbirth or a baby who dies soon after being born.  Syphilis also increases the chances of having a preterm birth and other complications.

A Baby Born with Syphilis

While some babies who are born with Syphilis don't show any symptoms, others may have a skin rash and lesions near the genitals and mouth.  They may have pneumonia, anemia, jaundice and other issues during their first few months.  Some babies show an enlarged liver or spleen.  If a baby that is born with Syphilis is treated soon thereafter, its symptoms should go away.  Babies that are not treated, however, may show many problems years later.  They may have bone and teeth damage, loss of both hearing and vision, and other neurological problems.

Who Is Tested For Syphilis During Pregnancy?

Most doctors do an STD screening during a woman's first prenatal visit.  Some states also require that women be retested at delivery.  If you think you might have contracted it after your first doctor's visit, or you live in a place where Syphilis is prevalent, then you should be tested again at 28 weeks.  It is very important to know that it takes between four to six weeks after exposure to test positive for Syphilis from your blood test.  Therefore, your results may be negative if you're tested too soon.  If you think that there is a chance that you are positive but tested negative, you should tell your practitioner to test you again a few weeks later.  Having Syphilis raises your chances of contracting HIV, so you'll be tested for HIV and other STDs if you test positive for Syphilis. 

How Is Syphilis Treated During the Pregnancy?

There is only one drug that can get rid of Syphilis and be safely taken during pregnancy and that is penicillin.  You'll be treated with one or more injections of penicillin.  Your doctor will evaluate what stage of the disease you are at and give you the right doses to treat both you and the baby.  The treatment for Syphilis often causes a number of short term reactions including fevers, chills, headaches and muscle and joint aches.  It can also cause changes in your baby's heart rate and may bring on some contractions if you're already in the second half of your pregnancy.  These symptoms are often intense right after the treatment and then dissipate after a few hours.

 

Your partner will certainly need to be tested as well.  He can expect to be treated if he is either positive or has had contact with you in the last three months.  You'll have to refrain from having any sexual contact until you've finished your treatment.  When your treatment is finished, you'll have blood tests periodically to ensure that you are clear of the infection and an ultrasound will be done to check on the baby.

Staying Safe and Healthy

Syphilis is certainly not something that you want to experience - either during a pregnancy or during any other time of your life.  Try to be careful by using latex condoms consistently and correctly during sex and choose your partners carefully.  If you suspect that you've been exposed, don't be embarrassed to get tested.  Getting tested and treated is essential for your health and the health of the baby that you are carrying.

 

 
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