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Anonymous on September 20, 2011

I had syphilis...will I be able to have a baby?

I recently found out the I'm positive for syphilis. My doctor gave me a shot to get rid of it, but I want to know if there are lasting health effects from having syphilis, and if I'll be able to have children.

answered by
Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM on September 20, 2011

I’m so glad you asked this question because a lot of women worry about how STDs might affect their reproductive health.

The good news is that you've already been tested and treated for syphilis. Getting diagnosed and treated for a syphilis infection as soon as possible is the best way to take care of your health…and ensure the health of a future child. Because you've been treated for your syphilis infection, you shouldn't have any trouble conceiving or carrying a baby due to your previous syphilis infection...especially if you had the infection for less than one year.

That said, an untreated syphilis during pregnancy can cause serious complications. Depending on how long a woman has had an untreated syphilis infection by the time she gets pregnant, she’s more likely to have an early delivery, a low birth weight baby, a miscarriage…or even a stillbirth. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that – among women with untreated early syphilis (when the infection is in its primary or secondary stages) – 40% of pregnancies result in miscarriage.

Unfortunately, pregnant women with syphilis can pass the infection to their babies...this results in a condition for the child called “congenital syphilis.” Typically, the syphilis bacteria is passed from mother to child through the placenta. But the bacteria can also be transmitted during delivery.

According to the World Health Organization, congenital syphilis complicates about one million pregnancies per year around the world, causing a host of health problems in the affected children. Luckily, pregnant women with syphilis can be treated with antibiotics during pregnancy to reduce these risks.

Bottom line? If you were tested and treated for syphilis already – especially if you had a syphilis infection for a short period of time – chances are that your previous infection won’t affect your chances of healthy conception, pregnancy and delivery.

However, the CDC advises that women who are pregnant – or who want to become pregnant – get tested for a number of common STDs, including syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and hepatitis B. That way, if it turns out that you’re positive for an STD, you and your doctor can work together to determine the best treatment to protect your health, and your future baby’s health.

Hopefully this information has helped put your mind at ease. If you’d like more information about syphilis treatment, complications and prevention, turn to our Expert Guide to Syphilis.

Eric Christoff, MD, AAHIVM

Dr. Christoff is a practicing physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include the treatment of HIV and syphilis along with other STDs, the medical treatment of depression and chronic fatigue, and the specific health needs of gay and lesbian patients. Dr. Christoff was educated at the University of Toledo, College of Medicine and completed his residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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