Definition

Syphilis is an infection caused by bacteria. Congenital syphilis (CS) is an infection passed from a mother to her baby. It is passed in the womb or during birth.

A baby with untreated CS can have problems throughout life. CS can also cause a stillbirth or death.

Spread of Syphilis During Pregnancy
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Causes

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacteria.

Risk Factors

A baby has a higher risk of CS if the mother:

  • Does not get prenatal care
  • Has unprotected sex
  • Has many sex partners
  • Has HIV infection

Symptoms

CS may result in:

  • Skin that is yellow in color
  • Fluids leaking from the nose
  • Rash
  • A hoarse cry or snoring
  • Vomiting
  • Poor weight gain
  • Problems meeting growth and development milestones
  • Eyesight problems
  • Balance problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Deformities of the nose, upper arm, shins
  • Tooth abnormalities

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done.

These tests may be done to look for signs of CS:

  • Blood tests of the mother and the baby
  • Tests on the placenta
  • Spinal tap to look for syphilis in the spinal fluid
  • Tests on the baby's urine

Pictures may be taken of your child's body. This can be done with x-rays.

Your child's hearing may be tested.

Treatment

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. It may be given to the mother during pregnancy. This will treat the child and the mother. The medicine will also be given to infected babies after birth.

Other treatments may be needed depending on the problems a child has.

Prevention

Get treated for syphilis to prevent spreading CS.

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
http://www.niaid.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Congenital syphilis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/congenital-syphilis. Accessed November 3, 2020.

Congenital syphilis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/infections-in-neonates/congenital-syphilis. Accessed November 3, 2020.

Syphilis—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/STDFact-Syphilis.htm. Accessed November 3, 2020.

Workowski KA, Bolan GA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2015 Jun 5;64(RR-03):1-137.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 11/3/2020