How does syphilis affect a pregnant women and her baby?
A pregnant woman with syphilis can pass the disease to her unborn baby. Babies born with syphilis can have many health problems. This may lead to low birth weight, premature delivery or even having a stillbirth (a baby born dead). To protect their babies, pregnant women should be tested for syphilis regularly during the pregnancy and at delivery and receive immediate treatment, if positive.
An infected baby may be born without signs or symptoms of disease. However, if not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks. Untreated babies can have many health problems (such as cataracts, deafness, or seizures), and they can die.
How is syphilis diagnosed?
A blood test is the most common way to determine if someone has syphilis. Shortly after infection, the body produces syphilis antibodies that can be detected by an accurate, safe, and inexpensive blood test.
Because untreated syphilis in a pregnant woman can infect and kill her developing baby, every pregnant woman should receive prenatal care and be tested for syphilis during pregnancy and at delivery.
What is the link between syphilis and HIV?
Oral, anal, vaginal, or penile syphilis sores make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection. A person is 2 to 5 times more likely to get HIV if exposed when syphilis sores are present.
How is syphilis treated?
No home remedies or over-the-counter drugs will cure syphilis, but syphilis is simple to cure with appropriate antibiotics from a physician. Treatment will kill the syphilis bacterium and prevent further damage, but it will not repair damage already done.
Persons treated for syphilis must abstain from sexual contact with new partners until the syphilis sores are completely healed. Persons with syphilis must notify their sex partners so that they also can be tested and treated if necessary.
How can syphilis be prevented?
Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of syphilis when the sore or site of potential exposure is covered, but it is best to abstain from sex while any sore is present in the genital, anal, or oral area. Contact with a sore outside of the area covered by a latex condom can still cause infection.
The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.
Transmission of an STD, including syphilis, cannot be prevented by washing the genitals, urinating, and/or douching after sex. Any unusual discharge, sore, or rash, particularly in the groin area, should be a signal to abstain from having sex and to see a doctor immediately.
Avoiding alcohol and drug use may also help prevent transmission of syphilis because these activities may lead to risky sexual behavior. It is important that sex partners talk to each other about their HIV status and history of other STDs so that preventive action can be taken.