A pregnant woman with a Syphilis infection can pass the infection unknowingly to her unborn baby or to her newborn during birth. When a baby is born with the infection already present, this condition is known as Congenital Syphilis.
Congenital Syphilis is rare in the UK, but Syphilis is on the rise and a recent Public Health England report (1) indicated a 33% rise in Syphilis cases between 2013 and 2014, showing the ‘largest proportional increase’ of any STI. Like many other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Syphilis may not always have symptoms in women or in men and may be spread unknowingly. Syphilis can be life threatening if transferred to a baby during pregnancy or birth. Babies born with Congenital Syphilis can endure a range of serious symptoms including failure to gain weight, fever, skin rashes and facial deformities such as no bridge to the nose (‘Saddle nose’). Sometimes Congenital Syphilis infection is not apparent until later in the child’s development and can cause blindness, eye problems, deafness or hearing problems to develop, as well as joint swelling, bone pain, abnormally shaped teeth (‘Hutchinson teeth’) and other symptoms(2).
A recent study of 18 countries indicated that Syphilis infection was attributed to 7.7% of stillbirths(3) and in the UK all pregnant mothers are offered Syphilis screening routinely at 8-12 weeks of pregnancy as part of their pre-natal care(4). Syphilis in pregnancy is usually treatable with antibiotics making Congenital Syphilis infection largely preventable. For women planning to have a family, Syphilis can be treated in advance of pregnancy increasing the likelihood of having a healthy baby.
STI testing is often considered an essential step in family planning for men and women and Better2Know offers a confidential and anonymous testing service for Syphilis and other STIs. Syphilis infection can be detected using a simple blood sample so women who are pregnant can safely be tested. For peace of mind for both parents when planning for a new baby, the Better2Know Pre-Pregnancy screen can detect Syphilis and other infections that could potentially be transmitted to baby such as Hepatitis B and HIV.