Syphilis is a highly contagious disease that can affect children as well as adults. In effect, congenital syphilis is suffered by babies born to mothers infected with a syphilis infection that was not treated during pregnancy or before childbirth. Congenital syphilis is one of the forms of syphilis that afflicts children – aside syphilis contracted through a sexual encounter with an infected adult. It is a life-threatening disease that claims lives of babies before birth and also, those who survive the womb are severely deformed or die just after birth.
The organism that causes syphilis can migrate to infect the baby through the placenta in a pregnant woman living with untreated syphilis, especially at the primary and secondary stages. About 80% of babies exposed to the syphilitic organism get infected eventually. Another way through which babies contract congenital syphilis is during childbirth during the moment when they pass through the birth canal. With the increase in the number of women infected with primary and secondary syphilis, there is a correspondent increase in the number of babies who are most definitely getting infected with the disease.
In the Beginning…
A baby infected with syphilis from the womb starts showing signs of the disease between two months and two years after birth. Though more than half of the infected babies show no visible symptoms of syphilis, those who present with symptoms always have their livers swollen. Their bones get swollen also, and they develop rashes in the mouth and anal regions. Their skeletal development is often abnormal and they have lesions on their hands or legs. Many of them get runny noses that are accompanied by bloody discharges. The babies have abnormal blood counts as a result of the infection from syphilis. Other symptoms are:
- Enlarged spleen
- Stunted growth and development
- Infection of the pancreas
- Swollen fingers
- Inflammation of the voice box
As Time Progresses…
The brain and the spinal cord, in addition to the teeth, bones, and eyes of babies above two years are affected by the disease. The symptoms include:
- Swollen head
- Mental retardation
- Squared brain bone (cranium)
- Peg-shaped upper teeth
- Scarred mouth, anus and genitals
- Hearing loss
- Deformed nose
- Inflammation of the joints
Various Tests for Discovering Congenital Syphilis
Treponemal and Nontreponemal serologic tests
In a case where congenital syphilis is suspected going by signs of ill-health in a baby or based on the syphilis status of its mother, nontreponemal and treponemal serologic tests are employed. The nontreponemal test is utilized first and if positive, the result is confirmed by the treponemal test. Venereal Disease Research Laboratory test and the Rapid Plasma Reagin test are examples of nontreponemal serologic test. Both can be used to also monitor the infected baby’s response to treatment.
The treponemal serologic test takes measurement of antibodies released by the body in response to Treponemal pallidum, the bacterium that causes syphilis. Examples of Treponemal serologic test include Fluorescent Treponemal Antibody Absorption and T pallidum particle agglutination.
This method is utilized when it is clearly established that a baby has been infected with syphilis. It is effective for the detection of syphilis even before the formation of antibodies.
Cerebrospinal fluid exam
This is done on babies who show signs and symptoms of syphilis that has invaded the brain and the spinal cord. Since it is possible to get a false negative result from a test when it is obvious that a baby’s CSF is infected, there is a general rule that every congenital syphilis case be treated for neurosyphilis.
Blood count, Liver function test, and Radiography are used to screen for pneumonia and bone deformities caused by syphilis in babies.
Prevention of Congenital Syphilis
- At-risk patients should be screened for syphilis routinely. Those include:
- All pregnant women. Pregnant women at a high risk of transmitting syphilis are to undergo a repeat screening 28 weeks into their pregnancies
- Every woman that gave birth to a stillborn child
- Newborns from six months of age or those older than 22 weeks whose mothers were not screened for syphilis before giving birth to them
Babies diagnosed of congenital syphilis in the first four weeks of their lives are treated with the antibiotic Aqueous Penicillin G. In the place of Penicillin G, Aqueous Procaine Penicillin can be given. Both are administered intravenously for ten to fourteen days.
Lives of babies are very important. They are the future. Actions involving sexual intercourse should be guided by that notion. Since syphilis is without specific symptoms at the time of infection and can mimic other health syndromes, it will be unwise to be sexually active as a woman or girl without going for routine screening for syphilis. Protect the babies. Get screened today.