Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. And, while many doctors think that syphilis is no longer a risk, it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 12 million new cases occur each year – between 3 and 15% of those cases are in developing countries, like the United States.
Women, especially, can carry syphilis without knowing it. The rash can develop within the vagina or on the cervix, going unnoticed by the individual. It is painless and generally heals on its own and leaves only a scar where the rash had previously been.
Syphilis is very contagious and can be passed from one person to the next. Even after the rash has healed, the disease can be transmitted. If syphilis is carried by a pregnant woman, it can even be passed along to her unborn child. This can cause serious side effects and can even result in morbidity of the child. This issue, however, could be significantly reduced by a simple and inexpensive test.
Sarah Hawkes from the University College London looked over ten different field studies that had examined syphilis prevention in pregnant women. What they found was astounding. By performing a blood test that costs less than $2 per patient syphilis can be detected in pregnant women during early pregnancy. This blood test can be performed at the same time as other antenatal blood tests that are already routinely performed during early pregnancy.
If syphilis is detected, the mother can be given an antibiotic the very same day. According to the studies, this more than halved the cases of children affected by syphilis. Stillbirths and miscarriages alone were reduced by 54 percent.
Despite this groundbreaking evidence, however, pregnant women are still not tested regularly for syphilis. According to David Mabey and Rosanna Peeling stated that, “the perception among many public health experts, program managers and policy makers that syphilis has disappeared has probably been the greatest barrier to preventing syphilis deaths in babies.” Raising awareness about syphilis and the testing of pregnant women is the best way to help eliminate syphilis related-deaths. And, while certain members of the medical community are doing their part, the word could spread much faster if we, as women, do our part by talking to our doctor.
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