- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BEIJING (AP) - Nearly half of pregnant women do not get tested for syphilis in poor areas of southern China where the sexually transmitted disease has seen a resurgence, researchers said Wednesday.

A study published in a World Health Organization journal found that more than 40 percent of about 125,000 mothers-to-be in Guangdong province were not tested for syphilis in 2008, mostly due to a lack of health facilities in rural areas.

“At the moment, the lack of screening is also related to the mothers’ lack of awareness about the need to go and get tested, or that the screening service exists,” Chen Xiangsheng, deputy director of China’s National Center for Sexually Transmitted Disease Control in Nanjing, said in an interview.

“If a mother has been infected with syphilis, it can be found through the screening at an early stage and treated to prevent the baby from being infected too,” Chen said.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is easy to cure but can ravage the mind and kill if untreated. Pregnant women with syphilis can miscarry or the babies can be stillborn or have congenital defects.

It was virtually eradicated in China before resurfacing in the 1980s, and cases are now growing by 30 percent a year. Prostitutes along with gay and bisexual men, many of whom are married, are driving the epidemic.

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