It might seem strange to think that a baby could contract a sexual transmitted disease like syphilis, but it's actually far more common than most people realize. Called congenital syphilis, newborns can contract the disease if their mothers have been infected with syphilis. It's important for both healthcare providers and expectant parents to understand the signs of syphilis in newborns, as congenital syphilis is on the rise throughout the country.
Babies can contract syphilis through their mother's placenta, or at birth — but newborns don't always show signs of congenital syphilis at birth. Not only that, congenital syphilis may take weeks, months, or even years to appear. Congenital syphilis can cause lifelong medical problems for babies born with the disease, everything from bone deformities to severe anemia. Even worse is that congenital syphilis can also result in death, in matter of days or even minutes from birth, as California Neonatologist Gurvir Khurana told Kaiser Health News.
With sexually transmitted diseases on the rise in the United States, the rates for congenital syphilis will also continue to rise. "It's been an absolute explosion," Khurana told Kaiser Health News. "It's just spreading very, very quickly." Here's what you need to know about the signs of syphilis in newborns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women should be tested for syphilis at their first prenatal appointment:
All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at the first prenatal visit (the first time you see your doctor for health care during pregnancy). If you don’t get tested at your first visit, make sure to ask your doctor about getting tested during a future checkup.
If a pregnant woman has syphilis, or tests positive for the STD while pregnant, preventing transmission to her unborn baby is possible, usually by taking a course of antibiotics. If her baby does contract congenital syphilis, in about half of all cases of congenital syphilis, the newborn baby will develop skin rashes, jaundice, skin ulcers, and fevers within days or months of being born, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The rise of congenital syphilis is directly related to the rise of STDs across the nation. The rise of STDs can be attributed to several factors, from lack of access to public health resources including comprehensive sex education, to STD testing clinics, to proper prenatal care, especially when diagnosing and treating congenital syphilis before a baby is born. What's most frustrating for healthcare providers is that congenital syphilis is preventable — and if contracted, it's treatable, too, but only if it is diagnosed in time.