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Women's Health Channel
Reported March 1, 2013

Syphilis Still Affects Pregnant Women World-Wide

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Syphilis affects a large number of pregnant women throughout the world, resulting in serious health problems and even death to their babies.  A recent study now shows that it could be prevented through early testing and treatment.

Researchers at the World Health Organization estimated that in 2008 over one million pregnant women around the world were infected with syphilis and 80 percent of them had attended antenatal care services.  Researchers found this figure by using information on the number of syphilis infections from 97 countries and on antenatal clinic attendance from 147 countries and inputting this information into a model.

The study authors used a realistic scenario to estimate the percentage of pregnant women who were tested for syphilis and treated adequately, ranging from 30 percent for Africa and the Mediterranean to 70 percent for Europe.  Using this scenario, the authors estimate that in 2008 syphilis infections in pregnant women caused around 520,000 harmful outcomes, including 90,000 neonatal deaths, 215,000 stillbirths, 65,000 low birth-weight babies, and 150,000 babies with congenital infections.

"This analysis indicates that syphilis continues to be an important cause of adverse outcomes of pregnancy, including substantial numbers of perinatal deaths and disabilities,” Lori Newman and study authors at the World Health Organization were quoted as saying.

Researchers estimate that in 2008, treating and testing pregnant women for syphilis prevented a fourth of the harmful outcomes, but the authors found that two-thirds of these harmful effects occurred in women who had attended antenatal care but did not receive any treatment. 

"Countries also need to ensure that quality-assured syphilis testing is available in all antenatal clinic settings, now possible even in remote care settings with the introduction of rapid point-of-care diagnostics. In addition, efforts are needed to ensure universal access to early antenatal care, as well as improved quality of antenatal care so that all pregnant women receive an essential package of services that includes routine and early access to point-of-care testing and adequate treatment for syphilis if seropositive,” Newman and study authors were quoted as saying.

SOURCE: PLOS Medicine, February 2013

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