PREGNANT women are spreading syphilis to their children, with cases being reported in Victoria for the first time in 14 years, as incidents of the sexually transmitted infection increase across the state.

One infant has died among two congenital cases were reported last year, which is part of a larger increase in women with the bacterial infection.

Doctors were today issued a health advisory warning from the Department of Health, urging them to screen all risk groups — including women of reproductive age and pregnant women.

Notifications of infectious syphilis have increased about 20 per cent year-on-year, reaching a record high last year with 1337 cases, up 41 per cent on 2015 numbers.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton said while three quarters of cases reported were from homosexual and bisexual men, there had been an sharp increase in infected women over the past three years.

Last year 146 women were reported as infectious, compared to 52 women in 2015.

“It had virtually disappeared in the ‘90s in Australia. It’s had a slow rise since that time, and then in recent year we’ve seen an upturn,” Dr Sutton said.

“Testing is especially important in women who are planning pregnancy or who are pregnant.

“Testing at the first antenatal visit should happen, because women can go into their pregnancy already with infectious syphilis, but with high risk women we need to ramp up the number of times testing occurs throughout a pregnancy because some women will acquire syphilis during the pregnancy.”

“Still birth is obviously the most tragic outcome, but it can also cause deformities of bone, skin, limbs and the brain in newborns. It’s preventable, and we shouldn’t allow it to happen.”

Dr Sutton said the increases in cases mirrored increases in sexually transmitted infections across the board, with the need for testing crucial to curbing the spread.

“This is also being paralleled by increases in gonorrhoea rates and chlamydia in recent years,” he said.

“Anyone who is sexually active needs to think about testing for all STIs.”