Campaign aims to reduce syphilis increase in women of reproductive age: Lady Peeps

True Relationships & Reproductive Health and Queensland Health Communicable Diseases Branch recently launched a syphilis awareness campaign to combat the rise of syphilis in Queensland women of reproductive age.

The campaign’s ambassador, Lady Peeps, encourages people to take control of their sexual health and ask about STI testing – including syphilis screening. She also encourages health professionals to get involved in disseminating the word about syphilis to colleagues, staff and clients.

Lady Peeps is at the heart of the public health campaign to inform and educate local Queensland communities about the importance of syphilis testing throughout pregnancy. Her message is clear – that all sexually active people could potentially have an STI, but only a small number get tested. If an infection is not treated, the signs and symptoms may go away but the infection can remain in the body, potentially causing long term health issues or miscarriage, stillbirth or physical and intellectual disabilities in unborn babies.

Syphilis is curable and prompt treatment in pregnancy is safe and effective in treating the mother and preventing congenital syphilis in an unborn baby.

True is calling on Practice Nurses and Managers, GPs and antenatal clinicians to help raise awareness of syphilis by sharing Lady Peeps’ important public health message. The campaign video can be played in practice waiting rooms and shared with colleagues and staff to assist in spreading the importance of STI and syphilis testing.

Midwives like Naomi are helping detect congenital syphilis cases through increased knowledge and training, learning how to encourage their patients to test for syphilis. Twenty-one year old Kate and her baby are just one such example. Kate was living with her boyfriend’s mother when she discovered she was 10 weeks’ pregnant. Her routine blood tests ordered by her GP in the first trimester including a syphilis screening. All results were returned negative.

At 14 weeks, Kate began regular visits with her midwife, Naomi, who booked a 20-week morphology scan, routine bloods and a syphilis screening at 28 weeks. The morphology results were normal, but the bloods and syphilis screening were outstanding. Naomi called Kate to remind her to have the blood tests and a glucose tolerance test.

The syphilis screening results were reactive. Kate didn’t recall any illness, nor did she have sores on her genitals or skin. Naomi noticed a rash on Kate’s forearms however and tactfully asked her if she had sexual contact recently. Kate disclosed that she’d had unprotected sex with two different men in recent weeks. One of them was an ice user; and the other involved oral sex only.

At 34 weeks, Kate had a repeat syphilis screening which was found to be reactive. She went into spontaneous labour at 38 weeks with her baby girl scoring an Apgar of 9&9. The baby was also reactive to syphilis and subsequently treated with IV Benzylpenicillin for 10 days in the special care nursery.

The midwife booked a paediatric appointment for the baby at 3 months of age and provided 6 weeks of postnatal home visits. Kate was also referred to Child Health. The family are all well now and living together with her boyfriend at his mother’s house.

Thankfully Kate had been advised by her midwife to have ongoing congenital syphilis tests which resulted in the baby’s screening and immediate treatment. Without Naomi’s encouragement, Kate could have been subject to long term health issues in the latent or tertiary stage of syphilis, causing damage to the brain, heart and nervous system. Kate’s baby could have suffered physical or intellectual damage without immediate treatment. Naomi’s decision to ask for partner details enabled contract tracing to be carried out, reducing further risk to the two men and all other partners.

Antenatal clinicians can undertake free training offered by True’s Antenatal Sexual health Kit (ASK) program to increase their knowledge in the areas of sexual health history assessments and contact tracing specific to pregnancy, with a focus on syphilis.

Lady Peeps advises all sexually active people to ask for a regular STI check, including syphilis, and complete the full course of treatment if they have an STI. Follow up testing is essential for anyone infected, pregnant or otherwise, to ensure they are not at continued risk.

For more information, watch and share the Lady Peeps video to see how you can make a difference in stopping the spread of syphilis –

As Lady Peeps says – “We’ve got this!”