Enhanced Syphilis Screening Recommended for Pregnant Women Amid Rising Newborn Infections

In the United States, the rise of syphilis cases among newborns has triggered alarm, prompting the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to call for increased screening measures during pregnancy. Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, can be transferred through sores during vaginal, anal, or oral sex and can be devastating if not treated early, particularly for unborn children.

When a pregnant woman is infected, the disease can cross through the placenta, leading to congenital syphilis, which is associated with severe health issues like miscarriages, low birth weight, and long-term complications such as cataracts, deafness, seizures, and heart damage. In some cases, it can be fatal to the infant.

Recognizing the critical need for intervention, ACOG has updated its guidelines for syphilis screening during pregnancy. The new recommendation advocates for testing at three key stages: the first prenatal visit, during the third trimester, and at the time of birth.

This update marks a significant shift from previous guidelines, which advised risk-based testing during the third trimester primarily for those in high-syphilis areas or who had known exposure to the disease during pregnancy. The urgency of this updated guidance stems from a staggering increase in congenital syphilis cases across the nation. According to ACOG, there has been an almost eightfold rise in the last decade alone, news release.

Dr. Christopher Zahn, interim CEO and chief of clinical practice and health equity and quality at ACOG, highlighted the role of obstetricians and gynecologists in addressing this public health challenge. “From a public health perspective, we recognize that obstetrician-gynecologists and other obstetric care clinicians play a critical role,” Dr. Zahn stated.

He emphasized that while ACOG continues to support the CDC’s sexually transmitted infection treatment guidelines, the new ACOG guidance moves away from an individualized risk-based approach to testing later in pregnancy. This change aims to increase the opportunities for detecting and treating the disease.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscore the severity of the situation, revealing an 80% increase in syphilis cases from 2018 to 2022. In 2022 alone, there were 3,700 reported cases of congenital syphilis, indicating a concerning 10 percent rise over the previous decade.

Dr. Zahn pointed out the numerous challenges in combating the rise in syphilis cases, including treatment shortages, limited access to prenatal care, and the stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections. “Timely diagnosis and treatment are key to reducing syphilis rates,” he explained.

The devastating impact of congenital syphilis is profound, but with rigorous screening protocols, many cases can be prevented. The additional routine screening during pregnancy is a crucial step that healthcare providers can take to save lives and prevent the transmission of this preventable disease from mother to child.

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