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Congenital Syphilis

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Congenital Syphilis


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Congenital syphilis (CS) happens when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to the baby during pregnancy or birth.

Spread of Syphilis During Pregnancy.

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Syphilis is caused by bacteria. A mother can get the infection during oral, anal, or genital sex with an infected person. CS happens when a mother with syphilis passes the infection onto the baby through the placenta or through contact with syphilis sores during childbirth.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in babies born to mothers who have a syphilis infection that was not properly treated.


CS may cause:

  • Skin that is yellow in color
  • Fluids leaking from the nose
  • Rash
  • A hoarse cry or snoring
  • Vomiting
  • Poor weight gain
  • Growth and development problems
  • Vision problems
  • Balance problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Deformities of the nose, upper arm, and shins
  • Tooth abnormalities
  • Stillbirth
  • Death


The doctor will ask about your baby's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

These tests may be done to look for signs of CS:

  • Blood tests of the mother and the baby
  • Urine tests on the baby
  • Tests on the placenta
  • A lumbar puncture to look for syphilis in the baby's spinal fluid

Pictures may be taken of the baby's body. This can be done with x-rays.

Your baby's hearing may be tested.


Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. Other treatments may be needed depending on the problems a child has.


The risk of this problem can be lowered with proper prenatal care.





  • Congenital syphilis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/congenital-syphilis.
  • Congenital syphilis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/infections-in-neonates/congenital-syphilis.
  • Syphilis—CDC basic fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/STDFact-Syphilis.htm.


  • Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.