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Sex Transm Infect. Apr 2000; 76(2): 73–79.
PMCID: PMC1758294

Syphilis in pregnancy


Syphilis can seriously complicate pregnancy and result in spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, non-immune hydrops, intrauterine growth restriction, and perinatal death, as well as serious sequelae in liveborn infected children. While appropriate treatment of pregnant women often prevents such complications, the major deterrent has been inability to identify the infected women and get them to undergo treatment. Screening in the first trimester with non-treponemal tests such as rapid plasma reagin (RPR) or venereal disease research laboratory (VDRL) test combined with confirmation of reactive individuals with treponemal tests such as the fluorescent treponemal antibody absorption (FTA-ABS) assay is a cost effective strategy. Those at risk should be retested in the third trimester. Treatment during pregnancy should be with penicillin. In determining a penicillin regimen, the clinician must consider the stage of the maternal infection and the HIV status of the mother. Patients who are allergic to penicillin should be desensitised before treatment. Despite appropriate treatment, as many as 14% will have a fetal death or deliver infected infants. Treatment may further be complicated by the Jarich–Herxheimer reaction, a complex allergic response to antigens released from dead micro-organisms, which can cause fetal distress and uterine contractions. Thanks to effective intervention strategies and inexpensive penicillin, syphilis rarely complicates pregnancy in the Western world today. In parts of the world where the traditional sexually transmitted diseases have not been controlled, the magnitude of problems associated with syphilis during pregnancy is reminiscent of that faced by the West during the early 1900s.

Key Words: syphilis; pregnancy

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Selected References

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