Recently, California has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of babies born with syphilis. Protect your baby from congenital syphilis by getting tested for syphilis during your pregnancy.
“Approximately 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection as a newborn.”
– Source: CDC
Frequently Asked Questions
Congenital syphilis (CS) is when a baby is born with syphilis. This happens when the bacteria that cause syphilis pass from a pregnant person with syphilis to the baby during pregnancy or delivery. If you are pregnant, you can prevent congenital syphilis and protect your baby by getting tested for syphilis and, if you have syphilis, getting treated right away with antibiotics.
Congenital syphilis can cause:
- Miscarriage (losing the baby during pregnancy)
- Stillbirth (a baby born dead)
- Prematurity (a baby born early)
- Low birth weight
- Death shortly after birth
Babies born to people with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from the infection as a newborn.
Babies born with syphilis can have:
- Deformed bones
- Severe anemia (low blood count)
- Enlarged liver and spleen
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Brain and nerve problems, like blindness or deafness
- Meningitis (an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord)
- Skin rashes
Congenital syphilis can be prevented by identifying and treating the infection during your pregnancy. If you are diagnosed with syphilis you will need to be treated right away to reduce the risk of congenital syphilis and other serious health complications. If you are pregnant, you should be tested for syphilis at least twice during your pregnancy: 1) at your first prenatal visit and 2) early in your third trimester (between 28-32 weeks). Your doctor may also recommend getting tested again when your baby is born.
- Syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics, even during pregnancy. Make sure your sex partner(s) get tested and treated too. This will help them stay healthy, avoid infecting others, and avoid re-infecting you.
- Congenital syphilis can also be treated and cured if your baby is still alive after delivery. Babies born with syphilis need to be treated right away or they may develop serious health problems. Babies are treated with antibiotics in a hospital for 10 days, and in some cases only one dose of antibiotics is needed.
Handouts & Posters (print copies are also available)
- County of San Diego HIV/STD Testing and Clinical Services STDSanDiego.org
- CDC Congenital Syphilis Fact Sheet | Sífilis congénita: Hoja informativa de los CDC
- CDC Syphilis Fact Sheet | Sífilis: Hoja informativa de los CDC
- CDC STDs During Pregnancy | El Embarazo y las Enfermedades Transmitidas Sexualmente
- California Department of Public Health – Congenital Syphilis
AAP-CA3 & the Congenital Syphilis Grant
The American Academy of Pediatrics, California Chapter 3 (AAP-CA3) received funds from the County of San Diego to raise awareness about the increasing number of congenital syphilis cases in San Diego County and help prevent congenital syphilis in our community.
As a healthcare provider, here's what you can do:
- Discuss sexual health with all your patients (see Sexual Health History Postcard in resources).
- Test all pregnant patients for syphilis at least twice.
- Immediately treat people who are pregnant (or could become pregnant) and who are diagnosed with syphilis.
- Contact the County of San Diego HIV, STD, and Hepatitis Branch if you need testing and/or treatment information for a patient or assistance with staging/treatment (see Clinical Consultation Warm Line for contact information).
- Before discharging the patient and infant from the hospital, make sure the patient has been appropriately screened for syphilis—Pregnant people should be tested for syphilis at least twice, during pregnancy: at their first prenatal visit, in the third trimester (28-32 weeks), and (in many cases) at delivery.
- Test all patients who deliver a stillborn for syphilis.
- Report all cases of syphilis and congenital syphilis within one working day of diagnosis (see STD case reporting information and forms).