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Alternative namesCongenital lues; Fetal syphilis
DefinitionAn infection caused by the spirochete Treponema pallidum ( syphilis ) passed from mother to child during fetal development or birth.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Expectant mothers who are infected with syphilis can transmit the disease through the placenta to their unborn infants. Congenital syphilis is a severe, disabling, and often life-threatening condition for the infant. Nearly half of all children infected with syphilis during gestation die shortly before or after birth.
Some of these lesions may resemble the wart-like lesions of adult syphilis. A small percentage of infants have a watery nasal discharge (sniffles) and a saddle nose deformity resulting from infection in the cartilage of the nose. Bone lesions are common, especially in the upper arm (humerus).
Signs and tests
The physical examination may show signs of bone inflammation (periosteal elevations or osteochondritis). There may be evidence of hepatomegaly ( enlarged liver ) and splenomegaly ( enlarged spleen ).
If the disorder is suspected at the time of birth, the placenta will be examined for signs of syphilis .
TreatmentPenicillin is the treatment for all forms of syphilis . Infants born to infected mothers who received adequate penicillin treatment during pregnancy are at minimal risk.
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 acquire syphilis in the birth canal have a better prognosis.
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if your baby has signs or symptoms as described in this document.
If you suspect that you may be infected with syphilis and are pregnant (or anticipate becoming pregnant), call your health care provider immediately.
Safer sexual practices can help prevent infection with syphilis . If you suspect you have a sexually-transmitted disease like syphilis, seek medical attention immediately to avoid complications like infecting a fetus during pregnancy or birth.
Update Date: 7/30/2002Jonathan Fanaroff, M.D., Department of Pediatrics, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT