As Newborn Syphilis Cases Rise, Maternal Screening Urged

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Newborn syphilis cases have shot up in the United States in recent years, so an expert panel is reaffirming the need to screen all pregnant women for the infection.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can be passed from pregnant women to their babies — in what doctors call congenital syphilis. Since 2012, U.S. government figures show, congenital syphilis has nearly doubled.

In 2016, 628 cases of congenital syphilis were reported — the highest rate since 1998.

If a pregnant woman has the infection and it goes untreated, her baby can be born dead, deaf or blind, or with nerve damage or bone deformities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increase in congenital syphilis came after syphilis cases rose among women, the agency said.

Experts have long advised syphilis screening for all pregnant women, ideally at their first prenatal care visit. If a woman has the infection, antibiotic treatment is very effective at preventing newborn syphilis.

“It’s easily detected, and it’s easily treated,” said Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine. “So there’s really no reason that rates of congenital syphilis should be going up.”

Tseng is a member of a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force panel that is issuing new recommendations on prenatal syphilis screening. The task force is an independent panel of medical experts, funded by the U.S. government, that reviews research evidence and makes recommendations on preventive health care.

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SOURCES: Chien-Wen Tseng, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, family medicine and community health, University of Hawaii, John A. Burns School of Medicine, Honolulu; Sarah Kidd, M.D., M.P.H., epidemiologist, division of STD prevention, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Fred Wyand, director, communications, American Sexual Health Association, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Feb. 6, 2018, USPSTF Draft Recommendation Statement, online

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