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Screening pregnant women for syphilis could reduce stillbirths and neonatal death

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June 16, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Stillbirths and infant deaths could be reduced through cheap and simple screening and testing for syphilis, a new Lancet report says. Another study suggests, less conclusively, that stillbirth risk is linked to a mother's sleeping position.
Stillbirths and infant deaths could be reduced through cheap and simple… (Tim Sloan / AFP / Getty Images )

Pregnant women with syphilis can pass the disease to their developing baby, and for many babies in the womb, the outcome is death. But a simple screening test and treatment could be a cheap way to cut such stillbirths and deaths, British scientists reported Thursday. 

That study holds immense promise, especially for women in the developing world. Another new study related to stillbirths -- and the potential risk based on maternal sleeping position -- is much less conclusive.

In the first report, an analysis of 10 studies, researchers concluded that offering screening and treatment for syphilis could cut stillbirths and early neonatal deaths by more than half.

Screening costs less than $1.50, according to this Reuters article, and a syphilis infection can be treated with penicillin.

About 2.1 million pregnant women have syphilis, mostly in low- and middle-income countries; without treatment, about two in three will have a late abortion, stillbirth, neonatal death, premature or low-weight baby or an infant infected with syphilis.

The authors conclude in the paper, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases: “This study suggests that the resources needed to roll out programmes for antenatal screening will be a worthwhile investment for reduction of adverse pregnancy outcomes and improvement of neonatal and child survival.”

Now for that second study... That research, published in the British Medical Journal, raised a hypothesis about preventing stillbirths. Comparing women who had late stillbirths with pregnant women who did not, researchers found that women who slept on their right side or backs were more likely to have a stillbirth than those who sleep on their left.

They wrote: "This is the first study to report maternal sleep related practices as risk factors for stillbirth, and these findings require urgent confirmation in further studies."

An accompanying editorial was more measured. It stressed that the results don't mean pregnant women should start trying to sleep on their left side—unless other studies can confirm the association. At this point, such advice is unwarranted, it said.

healthkey@tribune.com

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