Topic Overview

Congenital syphilis occurs when a mother’s
syphilis goes untreated during pregnancy and is passed
to the baby through the
placenta. A baby can also become infected with
syphilis during labor or delivery.

The risk of infecting the baby is greatest when the mother is in the
early stages of syphilis. But infection is possible any time during

It is very important that a pregnant woman have a blood test to detect
syphilis. The baby’s risk of getting syphilis is significantly reduced if the
mother receives treatment during pregnancy. If the mother is treated before the
16th week of her pregnancy, the baby will usually not become infected.

If an infected mother does not receive treatment, the mother may
miscarry, or the baby may be born dead, die shortly after birth, be born early,
or be infected with syphilis.

Complications that can occur in a baby whose infected mother was not
treated include:

  • A flat bridge of the nose (saddle
  • Permanent incisor teeth that are peg-shaped, widely spaced,
    and notched at the end with a crescent-shaped deformity in the center (notched
    teeth or Hutchinson’s teeth).
  • Inflammation of
    cornea, which may cause blindness (interstitial
  • A progressive, disabling, and life-threatening
    complication involving the brain (neurosyphilis).
  • Deafness.
  • Bone

Antibiotics can prevent progression of the disease in
an infected baby. But problems that have already developed may not be

If the baby lives past the first 6 to 12 months and is not treated, the disease can progress to a
latent stage in which no symptoms are present but complications can appear over time.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kevin C. Kiley, MD – Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofMarch 20, 2017