Congenital Syphilis

Overview

Congenital syphilis occurs when syphilis isn't treated during pregnancy and is passed to the baby through the placenta. A baby can be infected with syphilis any time during pregnancy or during labor or delivery.

It's very important to have a blood test to detect syphilis while you're pregnant. Treating it during pregnancy greatly reduces the baby's risk of getting infected. If it's treated before the 16th week of pregnancy, the baby usually won't get infected.

If syphilis isn't treated, it can lead to miscarriage. Or the baby may be born early or be infected with syphilis. Or the baby may die before or shortly after birth.

If syphilis isn't treated during pregnancy, a baby may have serious problems. These may include:

  • Inflammation of the cornea. This may cause blindness.
  • A problem that involves the brain. (This is called neurosyphilis.) This gets worse over time. It's disabling and can be deadly.
  • Deafness.

Antibiotics can keep the disease from getting worse in an infected baby. But treatment may not reverse problems that have already developed.

If the baby lives past the first 6 to 12 months and isn't treated, the disease can progress to a latent stage. In this stage, no symptoms are present, but problems can appear over time.

Credits

Current as of: November 22, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kevin C. Kiley MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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