Pregnant? Protect Yourself and Your Baby from Syphilis

By March 2, 2022 No Comments

Over the past several years, California has had a huge increase in syphilis cases in females and babies. From 2012 to 2019, the number of babies born with syphilis in California rose over 1200%!! This increase has also been seen in Orange County with 80 cases in babies over the past 5 years, and 5 deaths either before or right after birth just in 2021.


What is syphilis?

Syphilis is an infection caused by a bacteria that is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. You or your partner may not know you have syphilis as it starts as a small painless sore inside or near the mouth, vagina, penis or anus. Later a rash may develop on the palms of the hands, bottom of the feet, or on the body. The only way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested.

If you have syphilis and are not treated, the infection can spread to other parts of your body and cause serious problems with your organs, including your eyes, heart and brain. Luckily, syphilis can be easily cured by medicine, usually just a shot of antibiotics. If you are pregnant and have syphilis that is not treated properly, it can cause problems with your pregnancy too, such as your baby being born too early or too small, or even losing your baby. The infection can be passed to the baby during pregnancy or childbirth (this is called congenital syphilis) and cause serious problems for the baby too.


What is congenital syphilis?

Congenital syphilis is when the syphilis infection is passed from a woman to her baby either during pregnancy or birth. If not treated, syphilis can sometimes cause the baby to die before or soon after birth, or to have lifelong problems with their eyes, hearing, teeth, bones or joints.


What can I do to protect myself and my baby?

  • Use a condom every time you have sex.
  • Go to your prenatal doctor visits.
  • Get tested for syphilis. If you are pregnant, you should get tested for syphilis three times:
    • During the 1st trimester (the 1st 3 months) of pregnancy,
    • Early in the 3rd trimester (between 28-32 weeks), AND
    • At delivery.
  • If you have syphilis, get treated right away. Syphilis can be treated and cured easily with antibiotics.
  • Get your partner tested and treated for syphilis so they don’t infect you.

If you don’t have a regular doctor, call the OC Health Care Agency at 714-834-8787 for free, confidential testing for syphilis and/or other sexually transmitted infections.