Pregnant women have to be extra careful when it comes to taking care of their health. They are responsible for not just one, but two lives. This can put added pressure to the otherwise exciting phase of their lives. Hence it is important to make health a priority during this period because you won’t be jeopardizing just your health but your baby’s life as well. Syphilis is one such condition that has to be taken seriously if you are pregnant. But fortunately, there are things that you can do to avoid it affecting you or your baby.
What Is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by bacteria. You can get infected with the disease through contact with the skin or mucous membrane which has the sore. The syphilis bacteria can stay in a dormant form in your body for years before it becomes active again (1).
Syphilis And Pregnancy
If you are a pregnant woman with syphilis, there is a possibility of transplacental transmission of the bacteria to your fetus which can result in congenital syphilis. The bacteria can get transmitted at any stage of pregnancy resulting in fetal organ failure or even death. Bone marrow, skin, eyes, bones, liver and fetal heart can be affected by congenital syphilis. Pregnant women with the disease have a high risk of delivering a stillborn baby. And if the baby survives until birth, there will be a risk of preterm birth, congenital syphilis infection, low birth weight or neonatal death.
If you suspect of having syphilis, you can take the necessary precautions to reduce the risk of passing it to your growing baby. It is best to get screened for syphilis once you confirm the news of your pregnancy. It is recommended that all pregnant women be screened for syphilis, according to the US Preventative Services Task Force (2).
The Stages Of Syphilis
Syphilis develops in different stages with each stage showing varying symptoms. The symptoms will start appearing anywhere between 10 to 90 days after being infected.
Signs and symptoms of syphilis (3):
1) Primary syphilis
Development of clear painless ulcers that looks like papules in the beginning. Usually found on the genital area. It generally heals within 4 to 6 weeks of showing up.
2) Secondary syphilis
Development of rash covering the whole body after the sore heals or during the healing process. The rash can appear as brownish or reddish spots in the mouth, vaginal area, and anus. Other symptoms include warts-like growths that are white or greyish in color, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fatigue, and a sore throat.
3) Latent syphilis
If it is not treated in the secondary stage, it moves to the latent stage where the disease may not present any symptoms for years.
4) Tertiary syphilis/late-stage
In this stage, it can damage your organs also causing neurological and cardiovascular problems.
5) Ocular syphilis and neurosyphilis
It can present itself at any stage of syphilis if the bacteria reach the eyes or the nervous system of the individual. Symptoms of ocular syphilis may include reduced visual range, vision changes, and blindness. Symptoms of neurosyphilis include behavioral changes, coordination or movement issues, headaches, sensory issues, dementia, and paralysis.
6) Congenital syphilis
An expecting mom can pass the disease onto the baby through placental transmission or during birth. Newborns generally show no symptoms although some babies may have rashes on the soles of their feet and palms of their hands. It can also lead to deafness, collapsing of the nose bridge, and teeth deformities. The baby can also be stillborn, premature, or die after being born(4).
Treatment During Pregnancy
Syphilis during pregnancy can be easily treated using penicillin G which is an antibiotic that treats several bacterial infections. However, this antibiotic cannot treat any organ or tissue damage that has already occurred. Hence it is important to seek treatment early on if you suspect being exposed to the bacteria (5).
Syphilis can scare any pregnant woman thinking about the effects it can have on the baby. But taking the necessary precautions can help safeguard both you and your baby’s life. If you have syphilis, make sure your doctor knows about it and seek immediate prenatal care. Also, make sure you are getting regular sonograms and screenings done for your baby’s safety.