DOH letter outlines syphilis screening recommendations during pregnancy

May 24, 2017

In 2015 and 2016, seven women in Washington State gave birth to eight infants with congenital syphilis. In response to this dramatic increase of a preventable disease, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) distributed a letter to women’s health providers outlining recommendations for syphilis screening during pregnancy. Up to 40 percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from the infection as newborns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Please share these screening recommendations with all staff who provide care to pregnant women. For babies born with congenital syphilis, the disease can cause:

  • Deformed bones
  • Severe anemia (low blood count)
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Brain and nerve problems, like blindness or deafness
  • Meningitis
  • Skin rashes

Of the seven women who gave birth to infants with congenital syphilis in 2015 and 2016, four women had a missed opportunity for prenatal diagnosis and/or treatment. The missed opportunities included two women with negative syphilis testing in the first trimester and no further testing later in pregnancy.

Other missed opportunities included two women who had positive syphilis tests but were not engaged in prenatal care and did not receive treatment. Two additional women tested positive in the third trimester and received treatment less than a month before delivery. (Janine Reisinger)


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