There has been a spike in syphilis cases among women, contributing to the 38 percent increase in the number of babies in the United States born with the disease, health officials say. Pregnant women should undergo prenatal consultations and syphilis testing for early detection and treatment of this dangerous illness.

In the latest report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases of congenital syphilis (CS) being diagnosed has increased from 334 in 2012 to 458 in 2014 - the highest rate since 2001. From the period of 2008 to 2012, the number of cases significantly dropped. However, with increasing cases of primary and secondary syphilis among women, their babies would inevitably acquire the infection.

Syphilis is an infectious sexually transmitted disease that can cause long-term complications if not detected and treated early. The bacteria (Treponema pallidum) can be spread through unprotected sex and maternal-child transmission during pregnancy.

In 2013, there were 56,471 reported new cases of syphilis. When babies contract the virus, it is termed as congenital syphilis and can pose serious health problems, potentially causing death. Among pregnant women, it can lead to miscarriage, giving birth to a dead baby (stillbirth) and death among infants after birth.

Babies born with syphilis are at risk for deformed bones, severe anemia, enlarged liver or spleen, jaundice, blindness, deafness, meningitis and skin rashes.

Nevertheless, this infection is preventable. Both women and their partners can prevent the spread of the infection by safe sex practices including the use of condoms, abstaining from sexual intercourse or avoiding promiscuous sexual relationships.

In a report by the World Health Organization, pregnant women should undergo syphilis and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) testing upon their first prenatal visit and before childbirth. Women who will test positive for the infection should be provided with proper and immediate treatment.

Prenatal care is vital for pregnant women. However, according to their findings, of the 458 mothers in 2014 whose infants were born with CS, 21.8 percent received no prenatal care. Moreover, information about prenatal care was unavailable for 9.6 percent of the mothers.

The treatment may be similar to those adults who are not pregnant. However, the only safe antibiotic that can be used among women is penicillin. Throughout the pregnancy, blood tests will be repeatedly done to ensure the reduction of the bacteria in the body. They should also be entitled to appropriate counselling and recommendations to undergo other tests for HIV, the hepatitis B surface antigen and the hepatitis C antibody.

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