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Pregnancy Problems

Syphilis During Pregnancy

Answers to all your questions about syphilis during pregnancy, including how to treat is safely — and avoid harm to baby.

What is syphilis during pregnancy?

Syphilis is a highly treatable sexually transmitted disease (STD). Untreated syphilis can lead to illness and death in women and their babies, so it’s important to catch it early.

What are the signs of syphilis during pregnancy?

The first sign of syphilis is a sore known as a chancre that generally pops up within 10 to 90 days of infection. It’s usually round, small and painless, so it’s not always noticeable. The sore normally heals without treatment. In the secondary stage, an infected woman may develop a rash, feverfatigue and swollen glands. Then, the symptoms go away, and a latent stage — a period of no symptoms — begins. The latent stage can last for years and years and lead to serious illness.

Are there any tests for syphilis during pregnancy?

Yep. A simple blood test can detect the presence of syphilis. Because syphilis can be so harmful during pregnancy, all pregnant moms are screened for syphilis in the first and third trimester.

How common is syphilis during pregnancy?

Not very. Less than 1,000 pregnant women a year in the US are found to have syphilis.

How did I get syphilis?

Syphilis is transmitted by sexual contact, so your partner (or a past partner) passed it to you.

How will syphilis affect my baby?

Syphilis can be passed to your baby during pregnancy or at birth. It increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and death after birth. Babies with a syphilis infection can look completely normal at birth but develop skin sores, jaundice, fevers, rashes and developmental delays. Untreated syphilis can cause death (see Next Page for treatments).

What’s the best way to treat syphilis during pregnancy?

A simple antibiotic can cure syphilis and prevent health problems in both you and your baby.

What can I do to prevent syphilis?

A monogamous sexual relationship with a faithful, syphilis-free partner will help you avoid the disease. If you’re unsure of your partner’s STD status, using condoms during sexual contact may help prevent the spread of syphilis. (It’s worth noting, though, that syphilis can be spread by skin-to-skin contact and condoms don’t always fully cover all possible infected surfaces.)

Are there any other resources for syphilis?

US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Plus, more from The Bump:

STDs During Pregnancy

What Blood Tests Do I Need During Pregnancy

Your Guide to Prenatal Tests and Doctor Visits

By Rebecca Kolp, MD, ob-gyn and medical director at Massachusetts General Hospital West