Syphilis: Infection during pregnancy
On this page
- Testing for syphilis during pregnancy
- Health impacts of congenital syphilis
- Treating congenital syphilis
Testing for syphilis during pregnancy
If you have syphilis while pregnant, you can pass the infection to your baby during pregnancy or birth. This is called congenital syphilis. The health impact of syphilis on the baby depends on:
- how long you've had syphilis
- if and when you were treated
Congenital syphilis can have severe health consequences.
Protecting yourself and your partners from getting syphilis is the best way to prevent congenital syphilis in your baby.
If you're pregnant, it's important to be screened for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as soon as possible. Even if you have an STI, you may not show symptoms. Seek care as early as possible in your pregnancy, ideally in the first trimester, so that you can find and treat any infections as quickly as possible.
Health impacts of congenital syphilis
Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can cause:
- infant death
- premature birth
- low birthweight
- congenital disabilities
- future consequences on child health and development
A baby with congenital syphilis may be born without symptoms of infection.
Congenital syphilis can cause health problems for the baby, such as:
- brain infection (meningitis)
- skin rashes
- cerebral palsy
- enlarged liver and spleen
- low blood count (severe anemia)
- fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus
- yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- brain and nerve problems, like blindness or deafness
- abnormal bones and joints (musculoskeletal deformity)
Treating syphilis during pregnancy
It's safe to be treated for syphilis during pregnancy. If you are diagnosed with syphilis, getting treated right away will minimize the health effects for you and the baby. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics.
You can get syphilis more than once if you have sex with someone who has the infection and:
- has not been treated or
- has not finished treatment
If you're diagnosed and treated for syphilis, be sure to:
- follow your health care provider's treatment and follow-up advice
- avoid sexual activities that may put you at risk for re-infection until you and your partner(s) have:
- completed your antibiotic treatment and
- been told by your health care provider that the infection is gone
Once you have been treated for syphilis, you will need follow-up blood tests to make sure the infection is gone. It's important that you attend all of the scheduled visits.
Notify all of your sexual partners about their risk of infection. This is so they can be tested and treated to avoid further transmission or re-infection. All babies that could have been exposed to syphilis during pregnancy will need specialized care and follow-up after birth.
If you're uncomfortable notifying your partner(s), ask your health care provider or local public health unit for help.
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