Syphilis and Pregnancy

Claire, from Tomball, Texas, e-mails that she is six weeks pregnant and afraid that she has contracted syphilis from her boyfriend. Her symptoms include painless sores and a rash around her vagina. OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says that syphilis infections are on the rise and stresses that Claire needs to see her doctor for immediate treatment.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium treponema pallidum. Syphilis can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and contact with an open sore or contact with a skin rash. The bacteria can enter the body through the penis, anus, vagina, mouth or through broken skin. The disease progresses in three different stages, the first of which includes one or more painless sores on the genitalia, often followed by a rash. If left untreated, the disease can destroy the central nervous system and severely damage organs.

An infected pregnant woman can pass the disease to her unborn child during her pregnancy. Depending on how long a pregnant woman has been infected, she may have a high risk of having a stillbirth (a baby born dead) or of giving birth to a baby who dies shortly after birth. An infected baby may be born without signs or symptoms of the disease. However, if not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks. Untreated babies may become developmentally delayed, have seizures or die.

Syphilis is not spread by contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing or eating utensils.