Fortunately, syphilis is rather uncommon in the U.S. However, it is a potentially devastating disease for a fetus or newborn if not diagnosed and treated properly. Syphilis is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. It is spread from one person to another through sexual intercourse.

A test for syphilis is a common part of the first battery of blood tests done on a pregnant woman. Tests for syphilis look for antibodies to the syphilis bacteria. If the initial test is positive, a more specific test (the “FTA”) is done to confirm the diagnosis.

The treatment for syphilis is penicillin. If a woman is allergic to penicillin, some other antibiotics may be used. But because penicillin is so effective against syphilis, it may be wise for a woman with an uncertain history of penicillin allergy to go through allergy testing to confirm the allergy.

After treatment for syphilis, monthly blood tests are done to make certain that antibodies to the syphilis bacterium are declining.