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Cartersville Medical Center

Congenital Syphilis


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 medical care. If untreated, a baby with congenital syphilis can have problems throughout life. It can also cause a stillbirth or death in early infancy.

Spread of Syphilis During Pregnancy
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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a specific bacteria. This infection can pass to a baby through an infected mother. The baby may be infected during pregnancy or the birth process.

Risk Factors

A baby has an increased risk of developing congenital syphilis if the mother:

  • Does not receive prenatal care
  • Abuses drugs before or during pregnancy
  • Is involved in prostitution
  • Has unprotected sex


Symptoms of congenital syphilis include:

  • Rash around the mouth, anus, and genitals
  • Poor weight gain
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Fever
  • Deformities of the nose, upper arm, shins
  • Tooth abnormalities
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Irritability


You will be asked about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam may be done.

Bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests of the mother and the baby
  • Tests on the placenta
  • Spinal tap to look for the presence of syphilis in the spinal fluid

Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with x-rays.

Your child's vision may be tested with an eye exam.


Syphilis is treated with an antibiotic called penicillin. It may be given to the mother during pregnancy. The medication 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.


To help reduce your chances of spreading congenital syphilis:

  • Practice safe sex.
  • Get good prenatal care throughout pregnancy.
  • If you think you may have a sexually transmitted disease, get tested. Follow through on all your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Take your baby to all newborn and well-child check ups. Follow your doctor's recommendations for screening tests and immunizations.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 06/2015 -
  • Update Date: 05/29/2014 -
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

  • About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children

  • Health Canada

  • Congenital syphilis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 16, 2014. Accessed May 29, 2014.

  • Syphilis—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available at: Updated April 1, 2014. Accessed May 29, 2014.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Cartersville Medical Center does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.