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Screening for Syphilis Infection in Pregnancy: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Reaffirmation Recommendation Statement FREE

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
[+] Article and Author Information

For a list of the members of the USPSTF, see the Appendix.


From the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, Maryland.


Disclaimer: Recommendations made by the USPSTF are independent of the U.S. government. They should not be construed as an official position of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Financial Support: The USPSTF is an independent, voluntary body. The U.S. Congress mandates that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality support the operations of the USPSTF.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Requests for Single Reprints: Reprints are available from the USPSTF Web site (http://www.preventiveservices.ahrq.gov).


Ann Intern Med. 2009;150(10):705-709. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-150-10-200905190-00008
Text Size: A A A

Description: Update of the 2004 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force statement about screening for syphilis in pregnancy.

Methods: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force did a targeted literature search for evidence on the benefits of screening, the harms of screening, and the harms of treatment of syphilis with penicillin during pregnancy.

Recommendation: Screen all pregnant women for syphilis infection. (Grade A recommendation.)

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) makes recommendations about preventive care services for patients without recognized signs or symptoms of the target condition.

It bases its recommendations on a systematic review of the evidence of the benefits and harms and an assessment of the net benefit of the service.

The USPSTF recognizes that clinical or policy decisions involve more considerations than this body of evidence alone. Clinicians and policymakers should understand the evidence but individualize decision making to the specific patient or situation.

The USPSTF recommends that clinicians screen all pregnant women for syphilis infection. This is a grade A recommendation.

See the Figure for a summary of the recommendation and suggestions for clinical practice.

Grahic Jump Location
Figure.
Screening for syphilis infection in pregnancy: clinical summary of a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation.

USPSTF = U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Grahic Jump Location

Table 1 describes the USPSTF grades, and Table 2 describes the USPSTF classification of levels of certainty about net benefit. Both are also available at http://www.annals.org.

Table Jump PlaceholderTable 1.  What the USPSTF Grades Mean and Suggestions for Practice
Table Jump PlaceholderTable 2.  U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Levels of Certainty Regarding Net Benefit
Importance

Untreated syphilis during pregnancy is associated with stillbirth, neonatal death, bone deformities, and neurologic impairment.

Detection

There is adequate evidence that screening tests can accurately detect syphilis infection.

Benefits of Detection and Early Treatment

The USPSTF found convincing observational evidence that the universal screening of pregnant women decreases the proportion of infants with clinical manifestations of syphilis infection.

Harms of Detection and Early Treatment

Screening and treatment may result in potential harms, including false-positive results that require clinical evaluation, unnecessary anxiety to the patient, and harms of antibiotic use. However, the USPSTF concluded that the harm from screening is no greater than small.

USPSTF Assessment

The USPSTF concludes with high certainty that the net benefit of screening is substantial for pregnant women.

Patient Population Under Consideration

This recommendation applies to pregnant women.

Assessment of Risk

Pregnant women who are at increased risk for syphilis infection include uninsured women, women living in poverty, sex workers, illicit drug users, and women in communities with high syphilis morbidity (1). The prevalence of syphilis infection differs by region (it is higher in the southern United States and in some metropolitan areas than it is in the United States as a whole) and by ethnicity (it is higher in Hispanic and African-American populations than in the white population). Persons in whom sexually transmitted diseases have been diagnosed may be more likely than others to engage in high-risk behavior, which places them at increased risk for syphilis.

Screening Tests

Nontreponemal tests commonly used for initial screening are the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test or the rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test. These are typically followed by a confirmatory fluorescent treponemal antibody absorbed test or Treponema pallidum particle agglutination (TPPA) test.

Treatment

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined appropriate treatment of syphilis in pregnancy (http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/). In its 2006 sexually transmitted disease treatment guidelines, the CDC recommends parenteral benzathine penicillin G for the treatment of syphilis in pregnancy. Evidence on the efficacy or safety of alternative antibiotics in pregnancy is limited; therefore, women who report penicillin allergies should be evaluated for penicillin allergies and, if present, desensitized and treated with penicillin. Because the CDC updates these recommendations regularly, clinicians are encouraged to access the CDC Web site (http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/) to obtain the most up-to-date information.

Screening Intervals

All pregnant women should be tested at their first prenatal visit. For women in high-risk groups, many organizations recommend repeated serologic testing in the third trimester and at delivery. Most states mandate that all pregnant women be screened at some point during pregnancy, and many mandate screening at the time of delivery. Follow-up serologic tests should be obtained after treatment to document decline in titers. To ensure that results are comparable, follow-up tests should be performed by using the same nontreponemal test that was used initially to document the infection (for example, VDRL or RPR).

Useful Resources

The USPSTF has made recommendations on screening for other sexually transmitted diseases in pregnancy, including gonorrhea, chlamydial infection, hepatitis B, herpes, and HIV. Please see the USPSTF Web site (http://www.preventiveservices.ahrq.gov) for more information on these recommendations. The CDC guidelines on treatment for syphilis in pregnancy can be Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/.

In 2004, the USPSTF reviewed the evidence on screening for syphilis in pregnant women. In 2008, the USPSTF performed a targeted literature review and determined that the net benefit of screening pregnant women continues to be well established (2). This literature update included a search for new and substantial evidence on the benefits of screening, harms of screening, and harms of treatment with penicillin. The USPSTF found no new substantial evidence that could change its recommendation, and therefore reaffirms its recommendation to screen all pregnant women. The previous recommendation statement and evidence report, as well as the 2008 summary of the updated literature search, can be found at http://www.preventiveservices.ahrq.gov.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend (3) that all pregnant women be screened for syphilis with serologic testing at the first prenatal visit, after exposure to an infected partner, and at the time of delivery. They recommend that pregnant women who are considered at high risk for acquiring syphilis should also be tested at the beginning of the third trimester. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advise (3) using a nontreponemal screening test initially (RPR or VDRL), followed by a confirmatory treponemal antibody test. The CDC recommends (4) that all pregnant women be screened for syphilis with serologic testing at the first prenatal visit. Pregnant women who are at high risk, live in areas with a high prevalence of syphilis, have not been previously tested, or have had a positive serologic test result for syphilis during the first trimester should be screened again early in the third trimester (28 weeks) and at the time of delivery. The American Academy of Family Physicians strongly recommends (5) that all pregnant women be screened for syphilis. It advises screening with serologic testing at the first prenatal visit, with repeated serologic testing at 28 weeks and at the time of delivery for pregnant women who are at high risk.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Congenital syphilis—United States, 2002. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004; 53:716-9.
 
Wolff T, Shelton E, Sessions C, Miller T.  Screening for syphilis infection in pregnant women: evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Reaffirmation Recommendation Statement. Ann Intern Med. 2009; 150:709-16.
 
American Academy of Pediatrics.  American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. Guidelines for Perinatal Care. 6th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2007.
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines 2006: Special Populations. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2006. Accessed athttp://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2006/specialpops.htmon 9 April 2009.
 
American Academy of Family Physicians.  Summary of Recommendations for Clinical Preventive Services; Revision 6.7, October 2008. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians; 2008. Accessed athttp://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/clinical/exam.htmlon 9 April 2009.
 
Appendix: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force† are Ned Calonge, MD, MPH, Chair (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver, CO); Diana B. Petitti, MD, MPH, Vice-Chair (Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ); Thomas G. DeWitt, MD (Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH); Allen Dietrich, MD (Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, NH): Kimberly D. Gregory, MD, MPH (Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA); David Grossman, MD, MPH (Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, WA); George Isham, MD, MS (Health Partners, Minneapolis, MN); Michael L. LeFevre, MD, MSPH (University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia, MO); Rosanne Leipzig, MD, PhD (Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY); Lucy N. Marion, PhD, RN (School of Nursing, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, GA); Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, RN, CPNP/NPP (Arizona State University College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation, Phoenix, AZ); Virginia A. Moyer, MD, MPH (Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX); Judith K. Ockene, PhD (University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA); George F. Sawaya, MD (University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA); J. Sanford Schwartz, MD (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and The Wharton School, Philadelphia, PA); and Timothy Wilt, MD, MPH (Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research, Minneapolis, MN).

†Members of the Task Force at the time this recommendation was finalized. For a list of current Task Force members, go to http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstfab.htm.

Figures

Grahic Jump Location
Figure.
Screening for syphilis infection in pregnancy: clinical summary of a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation.

USPSTF = U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Grahic Jump Location

Tables

Table Jump PlaceholderTable 1.  What the USPSTF Grades Mean and Suggestions for Practice
Table Jump PlaceholderTable 2.  U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Levels of Certainty Regarding Net Benefit

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Congenital syphilis—United States, 2002. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004; 53:716-9.
 
Wolff T, Shelton E, Sessions C, Miller T.  Screening for syphilis infection in pregnant women: evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Reaffirmation Recommendation Statement. Ann Intern Med. 2009; 150:709-16.
 
American Academy of Pediatrics.  American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. Guidelines for Perinatal Care. 6th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2007.
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines 2006: Special Populations. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2006. Accessed athttp://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2006/specialpops.htmon 9 April 2009.
 
American Academy of Family Physicians.  Summary of Recommendations for Clinical Preventive Services; Revision 6.7, October 2008. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians; 2008. Accessed athttp://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/clinical/exam.htmlon 9 April 2009.
 

Letters

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Comments

Submit a Comment
And what about Preconception care
Posted on June 18, 2009
Shlomit Riskin-Mashiah
Carmel Medical Center, Haifa, Israel
Conflict of Interest: None Declared

The reason for syphilis screening in the first prenatal care visit is to find in time and treat those infected women in order to prevent fetal infection. Nowdays, that the importance of preconception care is rising, I think we should offer the the same syphilis screening test in the preconception visit. I would like to get the task force answer to this idea.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Submit a Comment

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Recommendation Summary

Summary for Patients

Screening Pregnant Women for Syphilis Infection: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation

The summary below is from the full reports titled “Screening for Syphilis Infection in Pregnancy: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Reaffirmation Recommendation Statement” and “Screening for Syphilis Infection in Pregnant Women: Evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Reaffirmation Recommendation Statement.” They are in the 19 May 2009 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 150, pages 705-709 and pages 710-716). The first report was written by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; the second report was written by T. Wolff, E. Shelton, C. Sessions, and T. Miller.

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