April 10, 2023
Aditya Chandrasekhar, MD, MPH, FACP Medical Director
Syphilis testing in pregnancy is the best way to protect an unborn baby from the STI's associated health risks.
Pregnancy is an exciting event for an expectant parent but can also be filled with health and safety concerns. Getting the right information and talking to a trusted provider can help allay many of these concerns. One concern many pregnant patients know little about is syphilis and how it can affect their pregnancy.
Syphilis is a very commonly encountered sexually transmitted infection (STI) across all age groups. It is caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium called Treponema pallidum. However, it poses some unique challenges to pregnant patients and their babies, as it can pass to an unborn baby during pregnancy. This is called congenital syphilis. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 16 percent increase in syphilis diagnoses among pregnant patients. The CDC also notes that syphilis infections among newborns are among the most rapidly increasing STIs that get reported: rates have more than tripled in recent years.
The effects of undiagnosed syphilis on a pregnancy can be devastating and range from miscarriage, stillbirth, or even the baby’s death shortly after birth. Additionally, newborns diagnosed with syphilis infections transmitted during pregnancy can have serious complications. These include bone damage, severe anemia, enlarged liver and spleen, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), nerve problems causing blindness or deafness, meningitis, or skin rashes. While all this sounds incredibly scary, the good news is that there are easy ways to manage this risk.
So what are the steps you can take as a pregnant person to keep yourself and your baby safe from syphilis? The single most important thing I recommend is talking to your provider about getting tested for syphilis during pregnancy. Public health officials recommend syphilis testing early in pregnancy, and this can be easily done using a blood test. There are even home-based tests that can help simplify this process. Testing is particularly important because many people with syphilis may not notice any symptoms at all. Consequently, testing is the only way to find out if you may be asymptomatically infected.
If you do get a positive test result, it is easy to get treatment with an antibiotic. And timely treatment greatly reduces the risks of syphilis to your pregnancy and your baby. I always advise my patients to revisit syphilis testing again later during their pregnancy if they learn of a partner who may be infected or if they live in a community where infections are more common.
To summarize, undiagnosed syphilis can pose considerable risks to you and your baby but getting tested is easy and timely treatment can help ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy. Your pregnancy is one of the most cherished events in your life. Don’t let undiagnosed syphilis get in the way!
Learn more by reviewing the CDC’s resources on syphilis and pregnancy. Also, discover how Primary.Health makes it easier for you to take control of your sexual health with fast, affordable, and reliable testing.
Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.