Barbados Today:- There has been a dramatic rise in the number of pregnant women here contracting syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

In a release today through the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), the Ministry of Health and Wellness revealed that the number of cases rose from an average of two a year through to 2015 to 17 in 2016, and the country is on course to record a similar rate for last year.

The ministry did not say what was responsible for this sudden and steep rise, but it expressed concern at the “abnormally high rate of syphilis in pregnant women and, by extension, an increase in the number of babies born at risk for congenital syphilis”.

It quoted Dr Anton Best, the senior medical officer of health with responsibility for the HIV/STI programme, as saying  the previous national outbreak was mainly seen in men.

The BGIS release focused extensively on the threat of congenital syphilis to babies and unborn children, with Dr Best stating that effective prevention and detection of congenital syphilis depended on the identification of the STI in pregnant women.

He noted that the guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Wellness made it clear that all pregnant women should be offered a screening test for syphilis at booking and at 28 weeks’ gestation.

The medical practitioner explained that congenital syphilis was a potentially severe, disabling and often life-threatening infection seen in infants and that the disease was transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and/or delivery, “and this could cause severe illness in babies including premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects, blindness and hearing loss. It could also lead to stillbirth and infant death”.

“The foetus is at risk of contracting syphilis when the mother is in the early stages of infection, but the disease can be passed at any point during pregnancy, even during delivery, if the child has not already contracted it,” he explained.

“To prevent congenital syphilis, it is imperative that all pregnant women be screened for syphilis during pregnancy. And for those that are found to have syphilis, prompt therapy with penicillin should be administered.”

Dr Best advised all sexually active persons in Barbados to get annual sexual health checks including screening for syphilis, HIV and other STIs.

Everyone diagnosed with syphilis should be treated and monitored in accordance with the guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the BGIS release said.