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STIs (sexually transmitted infections and diseases) can cause serious problems for pregnant women, their partners and infants. Many of these infections present with no symptoms, so it is essential that all women get screened.
Being pregnant does not offer any additional protection against STIs, which is why healthcare professionals will test all pregnant women for a full STI panel. This includes chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV.
Chlamydia is an infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It usually affects the vagina but can also infect the fallopian tubes or the testicles in men. Chlamydia can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and can cause an ectopic pregnancy that is life-threatening for the fetus and mother.
Symptoms of a chlamydia infection can include vaginal discharge or pain, a sore throat or cough, an abnormal Pap smear, or a miscarriage. It is a good idea to get screened for chlamydia during an STD testing pregnancy because it can be easy to treat with medicine if caught early.
Past research has shown that women are more likely to accept chlamydia screening if they are informed about the serious sequelae of untreated chlamydia, understand that chlamydia is common and asymptomatic, and are aware that it can be easily treated.
Gonorrhea is an STD that can be passed from one person to another. Women who are sexually active should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia during every pregnancy, or more often if they have new or different partners.
Getting an infection like gonorrhea or chlamydia while pregnant can cause serious health problems for the baby. Screening ensures that infections are treated before they cause complications.
Most doctors will test pregnant women for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV during their first prenatal visit. A blood test is used to test for some diseases, while others are screened using a swab or a urine sample. Women 21 years and older may also have a Pap smear to check for abnormalities on the cervix that can be caused by HPV.
During the first prenatal visit, your doctor will most likely test you for syphilis. A simple screen checks for antibodies that are linked to syphilis infections. However, it may be necessary to use a more detailed test that looks for actual bacteria (such as darkfield microscopy or polymerase chain reaction testing) in some cases.
CDC recommends all pregnant women be tested for syphilis during their first prenatal visit, early in the third trimester, and at delivery for those at high risk of infection. Most states have screening requirements; however, some state laws do not fully correspond to CDC guidelines and penalize providers for failure to perform syphilis tests. These penalties may encourage providers to adhere to CDC recommendations. However, they are not sufficient to ensure that all pregnant women are screened.
Many people don’t know they have hepatitis B. It can cause serious liver disease. During STD testing pregnancy, you’ll be tested for it. If you have hepatitis B, your doctor will give you treatment to protect yourself and your baby. Your baby will also be immunized against hepatitis B at birth.
You’ll get a blood test to check for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis. You’ll also have a pelvic exam. A provider will swab the inside of your vagina or cervix to collect a sample.
Some STDs are very dangerous for pregnant women. They can lead to a miscarriage or premature birth. They can also cause a baby to be born with low birth weight. If left untreated, they can also cause long-term health problems for both mother and child, such as eye damage, brain damage, infertility or death.
Despite the fact that HIV is not curable, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the risk of transmitting it to an unborn baby by 99% or more. Pregnant women should be tested for HIV at their first prenatal visit, between 28 and 32 weeks and during labor and delivery.
All pregnant women should be offered a test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis B during their first STD testing pregnancy appointment. Most women who get these infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics or antiviral drugs and will not pass the infection to their babies. However, if left untreated, these infections can lead to serious complications in both mother and child. All women should also be tested for HIV, especially those at risk. This includes anyone with a sexual history or close contact with someone who has HIV.