STD Awareness: What Does “Congenital Syphilis” Mean?

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis

Congenital syphilis, for centuries a leading cause of infant mortality, is often thought of as an antique affliction, relegated to history books — but it is on the rise again. Between 2012 and 2014, there was a spike in congenital syphilis rates, which increased by 38 percent and are now the highest they’ve been in the United States since 2001. As of 2014, the last year for which we have data, more babies were born with syphilis than with HIV.

The word “congenital” simply means that the baby was born with syphilis after being infected in the womb. When an expecting mother has syphilis, the bacteria that cause the disease can cross the placenta to infect the fetus — and will do so 70 percent of the time. As many as 40 percent of babies infected with syphilis during pregnancy will be stillborn or will die soon after birth. It can also cause rashes, bone deformities, severe anemia, jaundice, blindness, and deafness. Congenital syphilis is especially tragic because it’s almost completely preventable, especially when expecting mothers have access to adequate prenatal care and antibiotics. Penicillin is 98 percent effective in preventing congenital syphilis when it is administered at the appropriate time and at the correct dosage.


More babies are being born with syphilis — but this trend can be reversed with wider access to prenatal care.


Incidence of congenital syphilis is growing across all regions of the country, but rates are highest in the South, followed by the West. Rates have also been increasing across ethnic groups, but, compared to white mothers, congenital syphilis rates are more than 10 times higher among African-American mothers and more than 3 times higher among Latina mothers, illustrating the need to increase access to prenatal care for all expecting mothers — and to ensure that this prenatal care is adequate.

Anyone receiving prenatal care should be screened for syphilis at their first visit, and some pregnant people — including those at increased risk or in areas where congenital syphilis rates are high — should be screened a second time at the beginning of the third trimester and again at delivery. Continue reading

World Prematurity Day: A Time to Reflect on the Importance of Prenatal Care

The following guest post comes to us via Edna Meza Aguirre, regional associate development director for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Edna is a native Tucsonan, bilingual and bicultural. She received her JD from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and worked in the area of criminal defense for 12 years before changing careers. Edna is in her 16th year of volunteering at the University of Arizona Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit helping comfort newborn babies.

baby_feetThe neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) I volunteer in is among the best in the country. It is known nationwide for the cutting-edge research and techniques that not only save the life of a premature baby, but encourage that same infant to thrive.

The moment the delivery health care staff senses the as-yet unborn child is in stress, the amazing doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists are on the scene in the delivery room. As in a well-coordinated symphony, the lifesaving process begins. Through the priceless intervention of these medical professionals, I have seen babies born blue return to a normal color. I have seen listless children born with no sign of life emerge back into this world through the medicine and touch of these professionals. I’ve seen sobbing parents struggling with this difficult reality as hospital staff explain the problem at hand with caring words and a gentle tone.


There isn’t a single parent who isn’t deeply emotionally affected by watching their vulnerable baby receive treatment.


Premature birth, also called preterm birth, occurs when a baby is born before the pregnancy has reached 37 weeks, and affects 1 out of every 10 babies born in the United States. Because the last few weeks of pregnancy are so crucial to a baby’s development, being born too early can lead to death or disabilities, such as breathing, vision, or hearing problems, as well as cerebral palsy and developmental delays. Treatment can sometimes depend on how premature the baby is. With a normal gestation period of 40 weeks, a premature baby might be born at 25 weeks, 30 weeks, etc. This time frame can be calculated easily enough with mothers who are receiving prenatal care.

There are, however, cases where the mother has received no prenatal care and doesn’t know how many weeks pregnant she is. Continue reading

What Is Preeclampsia?

Prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy.

Prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy.

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month, and to be fully honest I didn’t know a thing about what preeclampsia was until I sat down to write this blog post. What I found out is alarming.

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure disorder and it affects 2 to 8 percent of pregnant women. It belongs to a group known as hypertensive disorders, which is the leading cause of maternal deaths. As a group, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, which includes preeclampsia as well as other disorders, account for 11.1 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in this country.


Prenatal care from a trusted ob/gyn is crucial!


Symptoms of preeclampsia can include a constant headache, belly pain under the ribs on the right side, swelling (legs, hands, and feet), decreased urination, protein in your urine, nausea with vomiting, and vision changes such as temporary blindness. In extreme cases, when preeclampsia develops into eclampsia, it is characterized by high blood pressure and seizures. Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 23: Preconception Counseling for a Healthy, Informed Pregnancy

Welcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

pregnancyFew moments in life are as important and complex as when a woman makes the decision of whether and when to have children. There are many considerations to take into account when planning to conceive, many of which can affect not only the baby, but the mother as well.

Preconception counseling, a service of Planned Parenthood Arizona, can provide those who wish to conceive with valuable information about their own health, suggestions about how to best manage their wellness for pregnancy, and education about a range of outcomes (including the possibility of miscarriage). Preconception counseling can assist you in creating an environment focused on optimal health for both you and your future child.

These counseling services include:

  • targeted medical history with focus on teratogenic exposures, ethnic background, and family history
  • social history with focus on risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), tobacco, alcohol, and street drug use
  • history of chronic illnesses
  • physical exam
  • labs as indicated (STDs, diabetes screening, etc.)
  • genetic counseling referrals as indicated
  • immunization review
  • folic acid utilization
  • review of current medications and possible hazardous exposures

The above list might seem long and detailed, but upon closer examination, you might not know what all of these things mean. What are teratogenic exposures? What does folic acid have to do with a healthy pregnancy? Let’s look at some of these topics in more depth. Continue reading

Book Club: Woman Rebel – The Margaret Sanger Story

Now that comic books have become the source material for blockbuster movies, the oft-told story of the maligned and misunderstood superhero should be a familiar one, even to many who have never read a comic. Think Professor Xavier’s cohort in the X-Men movies or Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. They’re extraordinary. They’re also flawed, often unable to shake the ghosts of an uneasy past. But their powers, not their shortcomings, are the reason they’re so maligned. No matter their good intentions, they challenge what is known and established, earning them fear and distrust.


Bagge’s graphic novel is a refreshing contribution to a medium that is often a guilty pleasure at best.


Given that trope, maybe it wasn’t such an odd idea to give the comic book treatment to the life of Margaret Sanger, the reproductive rights pioneer and founder of Planned Parenthood. Writer and illustrator Peter Bagge, a veteran of alternative comics, does just that in Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013). The outcome is a graphic novel that doesn’t let exaggerated expressions, vivid colors, and terse speech bubbles derail an intelligent and sensitive retelling of Sanger’s life.

Comparing Sanger to a superhero might be hyperbole, but Sanger’s trailblazing work not only created the movement to advocate for birth control but also spurred the development of the oral contraceptive, or “the Pill.” She had the drive and the know-how to contribute to the movement as an author, editor, lecturer, and founder of a reproductive health clinic. Along the way, Sanger helped change the laws that stood in the way of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, while rubbing shoulders (and sometimes developing romances) with many luminaries of her time, from novelists to political agitators to wealthy industrialists. March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment — a theme perfect for someone of Sanger’s stature. Sanger’s visionary efforts earned her many accolades — as well as a campaign of character assassination that has called her everything from a fascist to a proponent of genocide. Continue reading

Motherhood: A Prenatal Guide

momkissingbabyHAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Becoming a mother is a wondrous event. It is also a lifelong commitment to another special human being, your child. To provide your new baby with the best start in life, taking care of yourself in your childbearing years is essential. When you think that half of all pregnancies in the United States each year are unintended, it’s very important to follow a healthy lifestyle every day to ensure a good pregnancy and a good start for your baby.


Sunday is Mother’s Day. To those of you planning a pregnancy or hoping to be a mother someday, this is for you.


The United States does not fare as well as many other industrialized countries when it comes to the health of its newborns. Preterm births and low birth-weight babies are often the result of unhealthy pregnancies and a lack of prenatal care. New information and research has given us lots of good information about what is important to do before and during your pregnancy to increase your chances of having a healthy baby. Having a plan about when you want to start a family and what you intend to do to get yourself in the best health possible is a good start. This is called preconception health care, and it can make a big difference in the well-being of you and your baby.

At Planned Parenthood Arizona, you can see us for preconception health checkups. In addition to pregnancy planning services and fertility awareness education, we provide other services that can help you be in the best health possible before you conceive. We offer physical exams as part of our general health care services. You also might be interested in STD screening, to ensure that you receive treatment before you become pregnant. Additionally, we offer smoking cessation, to help you quit smoking for a tobacco-free pregnancy.

Here are some guidelines for ensuring your preconception health:

  1. Plan when you want to have a family and space your pregnancies. Be sure you are ready for the responsibility and expense of a child. If it’s not your first child, wait 18 to 24 months before having an additional child to allow your body to recover and prepare for another pregnancy. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Pregnancy

Every month since January 2011, we’ve been sharing installments of our STD Awareness series, and each month, we’ve encouraged you to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by using dental dams and condoms. But what if you’re trying to get pregnant? In that case, you’re probably not using condoms! However, it is very important that partners know their STD status — being screened and treated for STDs prior to pregnancy is a good idea for your health, and can protect your future baby.


If you and a partner are trying to get pregnant, you might consider being screened for STDs together.


When present during pregnancy, certain STDs can have negative health effects for you or your future baby (including preterm labor, stillbirth, low birth weight, pneumonia, certain infections, blindness, and liver disease), especially if they are not cured or treated in time. Receiving prenatal care can help prevent these problems, so it is important to be screened and treated for STDs prior to or early in your pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the immune system undergoes changes, which are probably necessary to ensure that the body doesn’t reject the fetus — normally, the immune system recognizes non-self cells as potential pathogens and attacks. These immune system changes might make a pregnant person more susceptible to disease. Latent viral infections, like genital warts or herpes, might come out of dormancy. Additionally, anatomical changes lead to a larger exposed area of the cervix, which is potentially more vulnerable to initial infections. Continue reading