Syphilis is an infection caused by bacteria. Congenital syphilis is an infection that a baby is born with. In this case, the infection is passed from a mother to her baby.
This is a potentially serious condition that requires care from your doctor. If untreated, a baby with congenital syphilis can have problems throughout life. It can also cause a stillbirth or death in early infancy.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by the bacteria called Treponema pallidum. This infection can pass to a baby through an infected mother. The baby may be infected during pregnancy or the birth process.
A baby has an increased risk of developing congenital syphilis if the mother:
If your baby has any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to congenital syphilis. These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. Potential symptoms include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam may be done. Tests may include the following:
Syphilis is treated with an antibiotic called penicillin. It may be given to the mother during pregnancy. The medicine in pregnancy will treat the child as well the mother. Penicillin will also be given to infected babies after birth.
Other steps may be needed if your child has complications from syphilis. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
To help reduce your chances of passing on congenital syphilis, take the following steps:
Centers for Disease Control
National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health
Caring for Kids
Congenital syphilis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . October 24, 2011. Accessed August 17, 2012.
Congenital Syphillis treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2006/congenital-syphilis.htm . Accessed August 17, 2012.
Syphillis CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/STDFact-Syphilis.htm . Accessed August 17, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Michael Woods, MD