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Congenital Syphilis December 10, 2010. Renata Dennis, RN, MPH Southeast AIDS Training and Education Center (SEATEC) Emory University School of Medicine Atlanta, GA 30322. Disclosure.

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congenital syphilis december 10 2010

Congenital Syphilis December 10, 2010

Renata Dennis, RN, MPH

Southeast AIDS Training and Education Center (SEATEC)

Emory University

School of Medicine

Atlanta, GA 30322

  • “I have no real or perceived vested interests that relate to this presentation nor do I have any relationships with pharmaceutical companies, biomedical device manufacturers, and/or other corporations whose products or services are related to pertinent therapeutic areas.”

Renata Dennis, RN, MPH, 10 December 2010


By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Describe the clinical manifestations of congenital syphilis
  • Discuss maternal and infant testing for congenital syphilis
  • Describe a prevention plan for congenital syphilis
how common are stds in pregnant women in the united states
CDC Fact Sheet, updated December 2007How common are STDS in pregnant women in the United States?

Estimated Number of

STDs Pregnant Women

Bacterial Vaginosis 1, 080,000

Herpes Simplex virus 2 880,000

Trichomoniasis 124,000

Chlamydia 100,000

Gonorrhea 13,200

Hepatitis B 16,000

HIV 6,400

Syphilis <1,000

torch infections in pregnancy
Tolan, R., Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice, 01/2008*TORCH Infections in Pregnancy


O-Other Infections (HIV, Hepatitis B, Syphilis, etc.)



H-Herpes Simplex

*Also known as STORCH or TORCHeS (to account for the importance of Syphilis), plus other acronyms to emphasize a variety of important infections.

congenital syphilis epidemiology and pathogenesis
AETC National Resource Center, Treating Opportunistic Infection Among HIV-Infected Children, 12/2004

STD Fact Sheet,, downloaded 12/2010

Congenital Syphilis: Epidemiology and Pathogenesis
  • Perinatal transmission of Treponema pallidum at any stage of pregnancy or during delivery from an infected woman to her offspring
  • Drug use during pregnancy increases risk of maternal and congenital syphilis
  • Syphilis chancres make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection sexually, and
  • Rate of congenital syphilis 50 times greater among infants born to HIV-infected mothers
congenital syphilis epidemiology and pathogenesis cont d
CDC Syphilis Surveillance Report, 2006;

S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Congenital Syphilis: Epidemiology and Pathogenesis, cont’d.
  • The spirochete crosses the placenta and infects the fetus; may also occur from contact with an infectious lesion canal during delivery
  • In utero sonographic findings include: hydrops, thickened placenta, hepatomegaly, ascites
  • Any woman delivering stillbirth after 20 weeks gestation should be evaluated for syphilis
case s of congenital syphilis
Farella, C. What if....? Pondering Clinical Cliffhangers, Nursing Spectrum, 2002Case(s) of Congenital Syphilis ????

Henry VIII, King of England,


  • Much controversy among historians
  • Wives had many miscarriages and stillbirths
  • The king himself had evidence of a skin disease at 22, series of headaches at 37, open leg ulcers that did not heal at 44, deformity (?gummata) on right side of nose at 45, and then, there was that temper later in life
  • NO WAY TO KNOW without testing-- syphilis mimics other conditions
congenital syphilis clinical symptoms and manifestations
Maranich, TORCH Infections, downloaded 12/2010

S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Congenital Syphilis:Clinical Symptoms and Manifestations

Three major classifications:

  • Fetal effects
  • Early effects
  • Late effects

Damage to fetus/infant depends on the stage of development atwhich the infection has taken place and time elapsed before treatment.

fetal effects prenatal perinatal period
AETC National Resource Center, Treating Opportunistic Infection Among HIV Infected Children, 12/2004;

A. Aaranich, Torch Infections, downloaded 12/2010

Fetal effects(prenatal/perinatal period)
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Neonatal death

Intrauterine and/or perinatal death in 25-40% of cases

early effects in up to 60 of infants usually evident within first 5 weeks can take up to 2 years
Hepatosplenomegaly- diffuse inflammation, scarring, jaundice

Generalized lymphadenopathy –epitrochclear nodes

Coombs – hemolytic anemia, thromobocytopenia, leukopenia, leukocytosis

Hydrops fetalis

Mucocutaneous: rhinitis (highly infectious), “snuffles”, mucous patches

Maculopapular rash


Pemphigus syphiliticus (vesicular bullous eruptions of palms and soles)

Petechial lesions

Bony lesions, osteochondritis, periostitis, pseudoparalysis

Syphilitc leptomeningitis

Chorioretinitis, salt and pepper fundus, glaucoma


S.Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Maranich, TORCH Infections, downloaded 12/2010

AETC National Resource Center, Treating Opportunistic Infection Among HIV-Children, 1/2004

Early effects- in up to 60% of infants(usually evident within first 5 weeks, can take up to 2 years)

Early manifestations are varied, with multi-system involvement

S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Broken vesicles, desquamation

Condylomata around anus

Infiltration, desquamation and rhinitis


Rhinitis (snuffles), mucous patches, damage to palate(late)

S.Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Bullae and vesicular rash on soles

Eroded papular lesions

S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Osteochondritis of distal radius and ulna

Osteochondritis of femur and tibia metaphysis

  • Infants may be asymptomatic at birth
  • And without early antibiotic treatment, children may develop:
    • Brain damage
    • Blindness
    • Hearing impairment
    • Bone and tooth abnormalities

CDC STD Treatment Guidelines 2006

late effects manifestations after 2 years of age
Interstitial keratitis (inflammatory)

Nerve deafness

Clutton’s Joints (synositis, restricted movement)

Hutchinson’s triad (teeth, intersitial keratitis, 8th nerve deafness)

Mulberry molars

Flaring scapulas


Mental retardation

Frontal bossing, saddle nose, protruding mandible

High arched palate

Perioral fissures

Higouemenaki’s sign(periosteal rotation of clavicle, sternocleidomastoid)

Saber shins

Rhagades (linear scars that become fissured or ulcerated)

S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Results primarily from chronic inflammation of bone, teeth,and CNS.

Late effects (manifestations after 2 years of age)
S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Hutchinson’s teeth – peg shaped upper incisors

Frontal Bossing

S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002

Saber shins: Anterior bowing of tibias

Gumma: Thin atrophic scar

diagnosis in newborns difficult because of maternal antibodies
AETC National Resource Center, Treating Opportunistic Infection Among HIV-Infected Children, 12/2004

Maranich, TORCH Infections, downloaded 12/2010

CDC 2006 STD Treatment Guidelines, downloaded 12/2010

Diagnosis in newborns, (difficult because of maternal antibodies)
  • Confirmed if organism identified in skin lesions
  • Presumptive, if present:

physical exam findings

CSF findings (positive VDRL)

Osteitis on long bone x-rays

Funisitis (“barber shop pole” umbilical cord)

Positive IgM antibody (test is hard to get done)

  • Regardless of physical findings, if mother was un-or inadequately treated for syphilis
diagnosis in newborns cont d
AETC National Resource Center, Treating Opportunistic Infection Among HIV-Infected Children, 12/2004

CDC 2006 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, downloaded 12/2010

Diagnosis in newborns, cont’d.
  • Use combination of physical, radiologic, serologic, and direct microscopic (darkfield microscopy, flourescent antibody test of a sample)results, as standard serologic tests detect only IgG
  • All infants born to mothers with reactive nontreponemal and treponemal test should be evaluated with a quantitative nontreponemal test, e.g., slide test, rapid plasma reagin (RPR)
diagnosis in newborns cont d23
S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002
  • If infant’s titer higher than mother’s  congenital infection
  • If decreasing titer in infant  passive transfer of antibodies, should disappear by 3-4 months of age.
  • Persistently reactive VDRL, with rising titer  active infection
  • Remember:
  • A sustained 4-fold decrease in titer of nontreponemal test after treatment indicates adequate therapy
  • A 4-fold titer increase after treatment suggests re-infection or relapse.
Diagnosis in newborns, cont’d.
syphilis diagnosis a review
S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002Syphilis Diagnosis: A Review
  • Serologic tests are the principal means for diagnosis:
  • Nontreponemal test: VDRL, RPR
  • Treponemal tests: TPI, FTA-ABS, MHA-TP
S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002Testing for Syphilisswitching tests can cause confusing (VDRL versus RPR)—use the same test to compare and track progress





  • Quantitative results correlate with disease activity, therefore, this is a helpful screening test; these tests are sensitive, but not specific
  • Titers rise when disease is active, fall when treatment is adequate
  • In congenital infection, these tests become non-reactive within a few months of adequate treatment
  • Used as a confirmatory test
  • Treponemal antibody titers become positive soon after initial infection and usually remain positive for life, even with adequate therapy
  • Antibody titers do not correlate with disease activity, and are not quantified
treatment for congenital syphilis
CDC 2006 STD Treatment GuidelinesTreatment for Congenital Syphilis

(Dependent upon clinical scenario)

  • Aqueous crystalline penicillin G: 100,000-150,000 units/kg/day, administered as 50 units/kg/dose IV every 12 hours during the first 7 days of life and every 8 hours thereafter for 10 days


  • Procaine penicillin G: 50,000 units/kg/dose IM in a single daily dose for 10 days


  • Benzathine penicillin G: 50,000 units/kg/dose IM in a single dose
  • Dosage varies for older infants and children
  • Other drugs are an option if there is a penicillin allergy (although desensitization may be possible)

If >1 day of therapy is missed, the entire course should be restarted

close follow up of infants
S. Philip, Congenital Syphilis, 9/2002Close follow-up of infants:
  • Should have careful follow-up examination at , 2, 4, 6, and 12 months of age.
  • Serologic non-treponemal tests: 3, 6, 12 months, and end of treatment
  • (or until non-reactive)
  • Non-treponemal Ab titers decline by 3 months of age, and should be non-reactive by 6 months, if infant was not infected. (Transplacentally acquired antibodies.)
  • If persistent, stable titers, consider retreatment.
  • Congenital neurosyphilis- CSF exam at 6 month intervals until normal.
some questions for you
Some questions for you:
  • When does your agency test pregnant women for syphilis? Is one time per pregnancy enough?
  • When do you treat pregnant women? Does this change if she has HIV?
  • Do you ask about a history of syphilis on intake? Remember: some people don’t realize you can be re-infected.
a final word from the cdc
CDC 2006 STD Treatment GuidelinesA Final Word (from the CDC):

“No infant or mother should leave the hospital unless the maternal serologic status has been documented at least once during pregnancy, and at delivery in communities and populations in which the risk for congenital syphilis is high.”

Added editorial note: The same goes for HIV.

cdc mmwr std guidelines 2006
CDC MMWR STD Guidelines, 2006*

*New guidelines are expected any day!