News: Benefits of universal prenatal syphilis screening outweigh risks

June 1, 2009

Universal screening for syphilis during pregnancy reduces the rate of congenital syphilis, supporting screening recommendations.

Universal screening for syphilis during pregnancy reduces the rate of congenital syphilis, supporting screening recommendations published in 2004, according to a review in the May 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Tracy Wolff, MD, from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, MD, and colleagues reviewed literature published since January 2003 and identified five studies addressing the benefits and harms of screening for syphilis during pregnancy. They note that the US Preventive Services Task Force strongly recommended screening all pregnant women in 2004.

The researchers found that the one study on the benefits of screening found reduced rates of congenital syphilis (from 54 to 22 cases per 100,000 women) after implementation of a universal syphilis screening program for pregnant women in China. Of the four studies on harms, two found false-positive screening rates of less than 1%, one found that the incidence of anaphylaxis due to oral penicillin was 0.1 per 10,000 dispensings, and one found that oral penicillin was not associated with orofacial clefts.

Wolff T, Shelton E, Sessions C, et al. Screening for syphilis infection in pregnant women: evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmation recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2009;150:710-716.