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Pregnant women: continue to screen for syphilis

Routine screening of pregnant women for syphilis allows treatment and helps reduce the incidence of congenital syphilis.

Syphilis is a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease and one of the risk factors in the transmission of HIV. It was thought that this disease had practically disappeared, however the number of cases of syphilis in adults has been on the rise since 2000. Particular vigilance is called for regarding pregnant women, since there is a risk that syphilis will be transmitted to the unborn child (congenital syphilis). In France it is compulsory for pregnant women to be screened for syphilis at the first antenatal check-up.

Syphilis screening during pregnancy remains worthwhile. In 2004, for example, 4 cases of congenital syphilis in children born in France were recorded.

There is a body of evidence confirming that it is useful to screen pregnant women for syphilis with the aim of treating them (with penicillin) and reducing the number of new cases of congenital syphilis.

Syphilis screening and the treatment of those infected carry few risks. All the evidence currently available confirms the value of carrying out preventive action, raising patient awareness and screening for syphilis, especially during pregnancy, and of continuing to recommend the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

©Prescrire May 2010

Source: "Dépister la syphilis pendant la grossesse" Rev Prescrire 2010; 30 (318): 288.