Genetics Northern California

Syphilis Screening Program

Program background
The Regional Syphilis program was established in 1990. Prenatal mothers who test positive to the syphilis blood test are tracked throughout their pregnancy up until the time of delivery. The program coordinators call the birthing hospital when the infant is born. After birth, they continue to monitor the infant's laboratory tests and work with the pediatric provider by sending patient alerts and recommendations for further testing.

Prenatal Testing
At Kaiser Permanente Northern California, every prenatal woman has a series of blood tests ordered early in the pregnancy by her physician, nurse practitioner or other OB health professional. These tests give the OB provider an indication of the health of the mother and the baby's development. Some tests are routine and others are optional. Routine blood tests include RH factor, blood type and a complete blood count.

Also included are special tests for hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis. The screening test for syphilis is called the Treponema Antibody test. This test is positive if you have been exposed to syphilis at any time in your life. The Reactive Plasma Reagin (RPR) is a follow-up test done when the Treponema test is positive. The RPR is a quantitative (number) value that helps determine if the infection is a new onset. If you test positive and do not have a history of treated syphilis, treatment will be given during your pregnancy. The RPR value decreases with treatment.

The state of California requires the syphilis test for all pregnant women. A pregnant woman who is infected with syphilis can unintentionally transmit the disease to her baby. Antibiotics are highly effective in the treatment of syphilis for both the mother and infant. By treating the mother during pregnancy, newborn complications are often prevented. Because of this, all pregnant women should be tested early in pregnancy to determine if they are infected with syphilis.

Medical Follow-up
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. It is a bacterial infection that can be diagnosed by a blood test. It is easily treated and cured with antibiotics in its early stages. If left untreated, it leads to serious health complications. Penicillin is a highly effective antibiotic used to treat syphilis. It is given by injection. Other antibiotics can be used for patients who are allergic to penicillin.

Pediatric Follow-up
If you test positive for syphilis, another RPR test will be ordered at the time of delivery for both you and your baby. Test results are evaluated and compared. These repeated tests check for the presence of syphilis infection that can cause severe problems for the newborn if left untreated. Because the mother's antibodies may still be present at birth, an additional infant RPR test is recommended when the baby is two months of age.

Learn More About Syphilis

Syphilis Prevention/STD Fact Sheet  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)

American Social Health Association (ASHA)
P.O. Box 14827, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-3827

Personal health inquiries and information about STDs:
CDC National STD and AIDS Hotlines
(800) 227-8922 or (800) 342-2437
En Espanol (800) 344-7432 and TTY for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (800) 243-7889

For more STD questions: