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What Does Syphilis Do to the Unborn Baby?

Syphilis is a disease that’s transmitted sexually and is a type of infection caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. Symptoms of syphilis include sores that are typically painless but highly contagious (usually in the mucous membranes and sites of infection), fever, increased tiredness, sore throat, headache, body aches and pains, and swollen lymph nodes.


At this stage, antibiotics can still cure the infection, but if you do not get treated for syphilis, not only will the sores take a much longer time to heal (about three to six weeks), but the bacteria will now spread to other parts of the body via the bloodstream.


Once it gets into the bloodstream, the infection will progress to secondary syphilis and cause symptoms like itchy rashes on the palms, soles, and other parts of the body as well as painless but highly-contagious lesions in the mouth as well as genital areas. Weight loss as well as hair loss are also present.


Again, if left untreated, the infection will progress to tertiary syphilis, which now affects your brain and spinal cord and can lead to eventual death. Neurological symptoms like hearing loss and blindness will be present, as well as psychosis and dementia. Meningitis and seizures will also be present, in addition to spinal cord problems like myelopathy.


If you’re pregnant and you suspect that you might have caught syphilis from your partner, then you should immediately get tested for the infection. Syphilis is not just a disease that affects you, but it is also a disease that can cross the placenta and infect your unborn baby, resulting in congenital syphilis.


What is congenital syphilis?


Congenital syphilis is syphilis transmitted to your baby during pregnancy and while you’re delivering your baby. The bacteria can travel via your bloodstream, and since you and your baby are connected through the umbilical cord which carries oxygenated blood and nutrients to your baby, you will be transmitting the disease to your unborn child as well.


It’s so important that you immediately get tested for syphilis and receive prompt treatment of antibiotics so you won’t infect your child. Early detection and treatment can help save your unborn child and prevent bacterial infection.


How does it affect your unborn child?


If left untreated, the bacteria can wreak havoc on your child’s health. Not only can it cause low birth weight, but it can also result in congenital problems like saddle nose deformity (loss of nose height), blindness, deafness or reduced hearing, Hutchinson teeth (smaller and notched teeth), and saber shin (deformity of the tibia characterized by bowing of the tibial bone to the front). Other bone problems may also occur like osteochondritis as well as periostitis. The child may also develop pseudoparalysis or inability to move an extremity due to pain.


Congenital syphilis also affects the baby’s organs and cause hepatomegaly (enlargement of the liver), splenomegaly (enlargement of the spleen), syphilitic hepatitis (infection of the liver caused by syphilis), and lymphadenopathy (enlargement of the lymph nodes), resulting in a variety of medical problems like jaundice, hemolytic anemia, hyperbilirubinemia, leukopenia, and thrombocytopenia.


It’s also not unusual for the baby to develop skin problems at birth or a few weeks after delivery. Symptoms include small lesions that are copper-red in color located on the hands and feet as well as mucus-like patches that are gray in color located on the genital areas and anus.


As for neurological symptoms, the child may develop mental retardation, seizures, and hydrocephalus especially if the infection is left untreated. Affectation of the cranial nerves may also develop.


Congenital syphilis can cause the death of your baby immediately before or after giving birth to your child. It can even induce spontaneous birth or result in stillbirth.


How is congenital syphilis prevented?


The best way to prevent congenital syphilis is to get the proper treatment right away. If you’re hesitating to visit your doctor for some reason, know that you can now order syphilis test and other STD tests (sexually-transmitted diseases) online. You can order the laboratory test anonymously without leaving your home and simply show up at the laboratory clinic on your preferred schedule. The results will be emailed to you or sent to your home address.


Congenital syphilis can also be detected through ultrasound examination at 20-weeks gestational age. If the fetus shows enlarged abdomen (a sign of hepatosplenomegaly) and there are signs of excessive amniotic fluid (hydramnios) and thick placenta, your child might be infected, in which case fetal serum tests are necessary to check for the presence of the bacteria.


If you and your unborn baby tested positive for syphilis, parenteral dosages of penicillin G will be administered to treat your syphilis and prevent maternal transmission to your unborn child.


Syphilis has debilitating effects not only on the mother but on the unborn child as well. You can prevent syphilis complications through early detection and prevention.