In a survey of 283 deliveries in Swaziland, active syphilis (positive results in the Treponema pallidum haemagglutination assay (TPHA) and the rapid plasma reagin (RPR) test) was found in 37 (13.1%) and possibly active infection (positive TPHA but negative RPR test results) in a further 87 (30.7%). The perinatal mortality of untreated mothers with active disease was 21.9% (7/32). The RPR test carried out antenatally by nurses had a sensitivity of 36% (13/36) and predictive accuracy of 48% (13/27). Awareness of this incidence of syphilis led to improved antenatal clinic measures and the prophylactic treatment of all newborn infants. More comprehensive serology is discussed and the prophylactic treatment of mothers considered. The need for health education aiming at safer sexual practices is of paramount importance in a society facing the arrival of the human immunodeficiency virus.
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