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Pregnancy & Prenatal Testing

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Pre-Conception: Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Syphilis

Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are three common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) caused by bacterial infections. In a pregnant woman, these diseases can lead to a miscarriage or infect the baby before or during delivery. The baby may then have serious health issues such as infections of the eye, joints, or blood; blindness; or breathing problems. Some of these problems are life-threatening. The woman's health is also endangered by an STD. The best approach is for the woman to receive antibiotics to cure the bacterial infection before the pregnancy or before delivery.

All women in the United States should be tested for these STDs before planning a pregnancy and early in their prenatal care, such as during their first prenatal visit. If a woman is younger than 25 years old, engages in high-risk activities during her pregnancy such as unprotected sexual contact, or is otherwise at risk, retesting for STDs later in the pregnancy is advised.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea tests detect the presence of bacteria in the sample. Some tests use a urine sample or cervical swab. If the test is positive, the person has a current STD infection that requires treatment.

The syphilis test is a blood test. It detects an antibody produced by the body in response to the infection. The test does not distinguish between a current or past infection and, if it is positive, confirmatory testing will be required. A negative test result usually means that the woman is not currently infected; however, it is possible that an infection is too new to detect. Some states require all women to be screened for syphilis during delivery.

Many women and men do not know when they have an STD, and some healthcare practitioners do not routinely screen for STDs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges. Tests for some STDs should be offered routinely during prenatal care because early treatment lowers the chance that the baby also will contract the disease. Other STDS of concern during pregnancy are trichomoniasis, herpes, hepatitis B and hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Screening for each of these should also be part of the first prenatal visit as early in the pregnancy as possible, say the 2010 guidelines published by the CDC.

Be sure to ask when planning a pregnancy, at an early prenatal visit, and again in the third trimester about the STD tests appropriate for you and your sexual partner at that time.

March of Dimes: Sexually transmitted diseases Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)