Syphilis is a contagious venereal disease usually characterized by genital ulcers. Congenital syphilis, also known as fetal syphilis, refers to instances when this infection is transmitted to a child by her mother. This infection can occur while the fetus is still in the womb or the disease may be transmitted at the time of birth. This type of mother-to-child infection is not specific to any single country and can be found across the globe.
Pregnant women are commonly screened for syphilis during their first prenatal visits by way of a blood test. In some countries, it is common to conduct such tests routinely throughout the pregnancy. In some countries, however, if the initial test is negative, the expecting mother may not be screened again unless an infection is suspected. This means that if she contracts the disease during her pregnancy, it may go undetected.
A syphilis infection is serious for adults. It is more serious, however, for a fetus or an infant. In most instances, adults do not die from syphilis. Congenital syphilis, however, poses serious risks to babies.
According to Medline Plus, nearly half of all children infected with syphilis while they are in the womb die shortly before or after birth. These mother-to-child infections are more likely to be fatal and result in still births, when the fetus is infected in the early stages of the pregnancy. Medline Plus notes that the babies who are only infected as they pass through the birthing canal have the best chances.
Congenital syphilis is treated with penicillin. The risks for the child are usually drastically reduced if the mother received treatment while she was pregnant. If ulcers are present at the time of delivery, it is likely that the attending physician will opt to deliver the baby by way of cesarean section.
Congenital syphilis symptoms are often of such a nature that they could be attributed to other problems. For example, an infant suffering from this condition is likely to be irritable and feverish. The infection may prevent the child from properly gaining weight. A more prominent symptom, however, is saddle nose. This is a condition where the child’s nose lacks a bridge.
If the condition is not detected near the time of birth, the congenital syphilis symptoms can become more severe as the child ages. The lower leg or the teeth may develop abnormally. The child may also suffer from swollen joints. The infection can also cause deafness and blindness.