SAN ANOTNIO -- San Antonio's health director is strongly urging local hospitals and clinics to test pregnant women for syphilis after a record 18 babies were born with congenital syphilis in Bexar County in 2012.

All too often that is not happening now, even though the opportunity is there, Metropolitan Health Director Dr. Thomas Schlenker said.

Schlenker recommends an expectant mother be tested during the first and third trimesters and at birth.

Five of the 18 babies born with syphilis last year died at birth.

The remaining 13 have lifelong disabilities including blindness, mental retardation and facial deformities.

Schlenker says all of these cases could have been prevented if blood tests for syphilis had been done during the pregnancies.

In almost all cases, a single penicillin shot will cure the disease.

In Bexar County, the rate of syphilis cases is five times the national average.

A majority of the mothers who transmitted congenital syphilis in 2012 were young and Hispanic.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can eventually kill a person if left untreated.

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