Syphilis, Pregnancy, and False Positive Labs

Syphilis is a venereal disease which is fairly easy to cure, but if left untreated can cause serious health problems for both you and your child. For this reason, screening for Treponema pallidum, the bacterium that causes syphilis, is routine during pregnancy. It is recommended to do this at the first prenatal visit, because if treated early (before 4 months) it is curable and will usually not have infected the fetus yet.

Syphilis develops in three stages. The first state, primary syphilis, is characterized by an open sore called a chancre, which usually appears on the genitals, either internally or externally. If untreated, the disease can progress to secondary syphilis and tertiary syphilis. Other symptoms include fever, sore throat, a rash, hair loss and swollen glands. In its final stage, syphilis can cause dementia, blindness and damage to the nervous system.

How Would I Catch Syphilis?

The bacterium that causes syphilis can be acquired through sexual intercourse (the most common method), kissing, passage from mother to fetus through the placenta, blood transfusion or accidental contact with an infected lesion. (Your Total Health)

Syphilis During Pregnancy

Syphilis is extremely dangerous for a fetus, who can contract the disease through the placenta that nourishes it. It can cause miscarriage and result in a stillborn birth. It can be also transmitted to your baby through vaginal birth and possibly through a cesarean section.  Congenital syphilis can have some very severe symptoms, although they may not appear right away.

False Positive Lab Tests

If you do test positive for syphilis, don’t panic! NO TEST IS 100 PERCENT ACCURATE. According to Lab Tests Online, screening tests for syphilis are not highly specific, and a false positive result is quite common. The VDRL has a high sensitivity but low specificity, and is used as a screening test. Today, treponemal FTA-ABS or MHA-TP tests,with high specificity and sensitivity, are used to confirm the results.

How is Syphilis Treated?

Syphilis is treated with penicillin (PenVK), which is considered safe in pregnancy. t is not common for a fetus to be infected before the fourth month, so testing and treatment should be done as soon as possible. If you have a history of penicillin allergy, you should undergo skin testing. If skin tests are positive, you will be ” desensitized” and then treated with penicillin.

A baby that is born with syphilis will also be given penicillin injections to fight the bacteria.

If your tests keep coming up positive, even without any physical signs of syphilis, your doctor may recommend treating you with penicillin, just to be on the safe side.

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