Health Advisory: Congenital Syphilis in Victoria

Status: Active

Date issued: 22 July 2020

Issued by: Prof Brett Sutton, Chief Health Officer, Victoria

Issued to: Health professionals and the community

Key messages

  • Victoria is experiencing an upsurge in syphilis, with reported cases of infectious syphilis increasing from 634 cases in 2014 to 1670 cases in 2019.
  • Untreated or inadequately treated syphilis in a pregnant woman can result in congenital syphilis in the baby, a serious public health problem that has re-emerged in Victoria, with 8 cases reported in the past three years.
  • Congenital syphilis can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, low birth weight and a variety of other possible adverse consequences in an affected baby.
  • All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis during routine antenatal testing in the first trimester and these tests should be repeated in any pregnant woman presenting at any stage of pregnancy with signs and symptoms suggestive of a sexually transmitted disease (such as a genital lesion).
  • Syphilis testing should be repeated at 28 to 32 weeks of pregnancy, and at delivery, in pregnant women who may be at high risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Syphilis can be easily treated with long acting (benzathine) penicillin, and advice on the appropriate treatment and follow up of a pregnant woman diagnosed with syphilis can be obtained from any Infectious Diseases Clinic or the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre. 
  • Preventing congenital syphilis requires active intervention and follow-up on the part of treating clinicians. Babies born to mothers who had been diagnosed with syphilis during pregnancy require specialist follow-up.

Read the full advisory: Congenital Syphilis in Victoria