AT least one baby has died of syphilis in the UK over the past year, experts have revealed.
The potentially fatal STI is becoming more common and is now killing babies in Britain for the "first time in decades".
Getty – Contributor The first baby to die from syphilis in the UK has just been recorded
Rates of syphilis are at their highest since the 1940s, with numbers of pregnant women going to hospital with the illness now in "double figures".
The STI can pass through the placenta, infecting the fetus.
The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV said babies catching the infection has "dire outcomes".
Rates of the STI are on the rise in the UK
Dr Olwen Williams told the Health and Social Care Committee said that women were not having the disease diagnosed until they arrived pregnant.
“We are seeing neonatal deaths due to syphilis in the UK for the first time in decades and neonatal deaths due to syphilis in the UK, I think that probably reflects some issues that we've got," she said.
She also warned that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea could cost the health service millions of pounds to treat within the next few years.
Cases of infectious syphilis in England increased by 20 per cent between 2016 and 2017, and reached the highest number reported since 1949, official data shows.
7,137 cases of syphilis were diagnosed last year – up from 2,874 in 2008.
A lack of access to healthcare is being blamed
That rise is partly being blamed on lack of funding to GPs to provide long-lasting means of contraception like a coil or IUD.
Experts are also saying that lack of access to healthcare is putting both women and babies at risk.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that's spread by unprotected sex.
While it's treatable with a short course of antibiotics, it can cause serious health problems the longer it's left untreated.
'Dire outcomes' for babies
If a woman becomes infected with syphilis while she's pregnant – or contracts it while pregnant – it can be extremely dangerous for her baby.
Infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or a serious infection in the baby.
All pregnant women are currently offered a screening for syphilis on the NHS so it can be dealt with before it causes serious problems.
It can cause madness, meningitis and seizures
There are four stages to the disease.
The first just causes one or two painless sores in or around the genitals, anus or mouth.
If left untreated, that goes on the second stage which presents itself as a non-itchy rash – usually on the soles of the feet and palms of the hand.
The later stages are where the infection can then affect the central nervous system and can result in meningitis, mental disorders, seizures, dementia and lack of control over limbs.
Two-thirds of babies born with the disease show no symptoms but over the first couple of years of life, they can develop lung inflammation, fever, enlarged livers and spleens, deformations and other issues.
Symptoms of syphilis
It's not always easy to detect as the initial symptoms aren't always obvious and can actually disappear.
Sometimes, people have no signs at all.
But symptoms can include:
- small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, but can occur in other places such as the mouth
- a blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- small skin growths (similar to genital warts) that may develop on the vulva in women or around the anus in both men and women
- white patches in the mouth
- joint pains
- a high temperature
- swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits
Dr Williams said antimicrobial resistance was a "major issue", which could increase the cost of gonorrhoea from around £250 to £1500 per patient.
She warned that in the next four or five years this could mean additional costs of up to £3.5 million for the health service.
"We are going to land up in a situation where a simple disease, which is treatable with one injection and curable, will become an inpatient event of three days," Dr Williams told the committee.