Skip Navigation LinksCongenital-Syphilis

sexually transmitted diseases control branch

Get STI testing today Syphilis
What is congenital syphilis (CS)?

Congenital syphilis (CS) is an infection transmitted from an infected pregnant person to their child during pregnancy and/or during delivery (if baby has direct contact with a syphilis sore). CS can have major health impacts on your baby. How CS affects your baby's health depends on how long you had syphilis and if — or when — you got treatment for the infection. CS can cause:

  • Miscarriage (losing the baby during pregnancy)

  • Stillbirth (a baby born dead)

  • Prematurity (a baby born early)

  • Low birth weight

  • Death shortly after birth

S​igns and Symptoms​

It is possible that a baby with CS won't have any symptoms at birth. But without treatment, the baby may develop serious problems including:

  • Brain and nerve problems, like blindness or deafness

  • Meningitis (infection around the brain)

  • Deformed bones and bone infections

  • Severe anemia (low blood count)

  • Enlarged liver and spleen

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)

  • Skin rashes

​Usually, these health problems develop in the first few weeks after birth, but they can also happen years later. Babies who do not get treatment for CS and develop symptoms later on can die from the infection. They may also be developmentally delayed or have seizures.

Testing

Your health care provider must consider several factors to determine if your baby has CS. These factors will include the results of your syphilis blood test and, if you were diagnosed with syphilis, whether you received sufficient treatment for syphilis during your pregnancy. Your doctor may also want to test your baby's blood, perform a physical examination of your baby, or do other tests, such as a spinal tap or an x-ray, to determine if your baby has CS.

Prevention

Your baby will not get CS if you do not have syphilis. There are two important things you can do to protect your baby from getting CS and the health problems caused by this infection:

  • Get a syphilis test at your first prenatal visit and in your third trimester

  • Get syphilis testing at delivery if your provider recommends it​

  • If you have syphilis, get treatment as soon as possible to prevent serious health complications for you and your baby​

If you are having sex while pregnant, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting syphilis before or during pregnancy:

  • Have sex only with a partner(s) who has been tested and who do not have syphilis

  • Use condoms. Condoms prevent the spread of syphilis by preventing contact with a sore. Sometimes sores occur in areas not covered by a condom. Contact with these sores can still transmit syphilis.

  • Have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and STI testing with your health care provider so they can give you the best advice on testing and treatment.​

Congenital syphilis is curable!

Babies who have CS need to be treated right away — or they can develop serious health problems. Depending on the results of your baby's medical evaluation, they may need antibiotics in a hospital for 10 days. In some cases, only one injection of antibiotics is needed. It's also important that babies treated for CS get follow-up care to make sure that the treatment worked.

Resources

​​​

Page Last Updated :