"It's essential to treat syphilis early in the pregnancy, which is why your doctor will most likely order a screening at your first prenatal exam."
Sandra Burchett, MD, MSc, Clinical Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, Boston Children's Hospital
You’re likely to be confused and overwhelmed—not to mention scared—if your infant has been diagnosed with congenital syphilis. But you can play an active role in helping him get better. Developing a basic understanding of the condition is a great first step as you partner with your child’s health care team to form a treatment plan.
- Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum that can result in serious congenital conditions if contracted during prenatal development.
- There are three main stages of syphilis, which progressively become more serious
- Primary stage — isolated physical symptoms, most noticeably a hard, red sore and inflamed lymph nodes
- Secondary stage — syphilis circulates throughout the blood stream, producing a rash on the hands and feet several weeks after the sore heals
- Tertiary stage — comes after a latency period, during which there are no symptoms of the disease. This final stage of syphilis involves problems with the neurological, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.
- If the infection is left untreated, almost half of children infected before birth do not make it to term or die soon afterwards.
- Newborns with congenital syphilis are considered to be in the secondary stage of the disease, but without treatment can move to the final, and most serious period, of the disease by their second birthday.
If we find that you or your baby has been infected with syphilis, we will begin treatment to ensure that the condition has a minimal effect on her health.
How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches congenital syphilis
Our Division of Infectious Diseases treats congenital syphilis in infants.
Physicians in theDivision of Infectious Diseases care for children and adolescents with a variety of infections.
- In addition to treating children, we also are dedicated to researching better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent infectious diseases.
How does Children’s treat syphilis?
It’s a fairly simple process. A single dose of penicillin usually gets rid of congenital syphilis and prevents recurrent infections.
However, the best treatment is prevention, so if you are pregnant and think you may have been exposed to syphilis, ask your doctor to perform a blood test.
- If the mother is treated early in the pregnancy, the infant is at minimal risk for infection.
At Children's Division of Newborn Medicine, we specialize in treating babies with a wide range of congenital and acquired conditions. Your baby will be seen by a specially trained team of physicians, nurses, therapists and other health professionals who routinely diagnose and treat newborns with critical illnesses.
Leading the way in fetal and neonatal care
Babies who have a congenital neurological condition need intense, specialized care. At the Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program at Children’s, we provide comprehensive evaluation and treatment for these young children. Because newborns’ brains are in a crucial window of rapid development, we identify problems as early as possible and intervene quickly.
|Essential support services|
|Read about general information and resources for Children’s patients and their families.|
Congenital syphilis: Reviewed by Sandra Burchett, MD, MSc, Clinical Director, Children’s Hospital Boston Division of Infectious Diseases