Congenital syphilis

Alternative Names

Congenital lues; Fetal syphilis

Definition of Congenital syphilis

Congenital syphilis is a severe, disabling, and often life-threatening infection seen in infants. A pregnant mother who has syphilis can spread the disease through the placenta to the unborn infant.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Congenital syphilis is caused by the bacterium , which is passed from mother to child during fetal development or at birth. Nearly half of all children infected with syphilis while they are in the womb die shortly before or after birth.

Symptoms

Symptoms in newborns may include:

Signs and tests

If the disorder is suspected at the time of birth, the placenta will be examined for signs of syphilis. A physical examination of the infant may show signs of liver and spleen swelling and bone inflammation.

Treatment

Penicillin is used to treat all forms of syphilis.

Expectations (prognosis)

Many infants who were infected early in the pregnancy are stillborn. Treatment of the expectant mother lowers the risk of congenital syphilis in the infant. Babies who become infected when passing through the birth canal have a better outlook.

Review

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Norhtwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 11/2/2009

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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