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Chien-Wen Tseng

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is reaffirming the need to screen all pregnant women for syphilis, which may be present but undetected in expectant mothers with devastating effects. University of Hawaiʻi faculty physician Chien-Wen Tseng, a member of the task force, says screening for syphilis should happen as early in a pregnancy as possible.

“It can cause deformities, blindness, deafness and, even more tragically, a complete loss of the baby,” said Tseng, a family medicine associate professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and the first Hawaiʻi member of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can be passed from pregnant women to their babies. Cases of infection among infants have nearly doubled since 2012.

Although up-to-date national and local data on rates of syphilis infection in pregnant women are not available, the incidence rates of primary and secondary syphilis infection in women and congenital syphilis in infants have been increasing, despite consistent recommendations and legal mandates to screen for syphilis infection in pregnant women.

“It is really important to get screened because early stages of syphilis may not have any symptoms that are noticeable,” said Tseng. “It may be something as simple as a small painless sore and women may not notice it.”

Syphilis can be safely and easily treated with a single dose of antibiotics that have a very high cure rate and are safe for both mother and baby.

See the full story on the John A. Burns School of Medicine website.

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