One major health concern globally that has caused significant morbidity and mortality among newborns is congenital syphilis. Typically, this occurs when a mother with syphilis transmits the sexually transmitted infection to her unborn child while she is pregnant or giving birth.
The World Health Organization (WHO) records about 6 million new cases of congenital syphilis emerging annually, which makes it one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections worldwide.
The condition underscores the early detection and treatment of syphilis during pregnancy, which can prevent congenital syphilis, but if left untreated, it can lead to a reduction in birth weight, death in infants, premature birth, and various congenital abnormalities.
To properly understand the depth of the infection, it is important to note the symptoms that manifest, the preventive measures that can be adopted, and the need for immediate medical intervention when detected.
What Are The Early Signs Of Congenital Syphilis In Infants?
Within the first three months of childbirth, congenital syphilis can unfold in diverse ways. For instance, infants may develop a rare skin eruption or copper-colored rashes on their palms and soles.
There can also be a small spot of raised lesions around the mouth, nose, and diaper area, coupled with tiny red spots. Aside from that, infants can struggle with weight gain and may have blood-mixed nasal discharge.
There are also severe complications like meningitis, choroiditis, hydrocephalus, seizures, and intellectual disabilities. Some infants may also show signs of pseudoparalysis due to osteochondritis, especially of the long bones and ribs, within the first eight months of life, detectable through specific radiologic changes in the bones.
The Late Signs Of Congenital Syphilis In Infants
In infants, late congenital syphilis typically surfaces after about 2 years of life. This mainly reveals a series of distinctive symptoms, like deep sores primarily around the septum, nose, and hard palate, along with changes to the shin bones and abnormalities in the frontal and parietal bones of the skull. Though neurosyphilis might not show symptoms, it may lead to conditions affecting muscle movement and coordination.
In addition, infants might experience Issues such as vision loss due to optic atrophy, recurring eye lesions leading to corneal scarring, and progressive deafness can also develop. Moreover, the presence of unique dental abnormalities, and facial deformities, including “bulldog” facies, and perioral fissures are also rare but characteristic manifestations.
Early Signs Of Congenital Syphilis In Mothers
To diagnose early congenital syphilis in mothers, it typically relies on maternal serologic testing, which is usually conducted early in pregnancy and often repeated in the third trimester and at delivery.
In the primary stage of syphilis, sore or multiple sores manifest at the location where the bacterium penetrates the body. This is usually around the genital area, the rectum, or within the oral cavity. Typically, these sores are firm, round, and painless.
Usually, infants born to mothers who show evidence of syphilis undergo thorough examinations and several tests. This includes tests like darkfield microscopy or immunofluorescent staining of skin or mucosal lesions, as well as quantitative nontreponemal serum tests like rapid plasma reagin (RPR) or Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL).
Late Signs Of Congenital Syphilis In Mothers
Congenital syphilis in the later stages of pregnancy manifests different signs. During the secondary stage, the mother may experience fever, swollen lymph nodes, and skin rash, as well as develop wart-like lesions in the genital area, known as condyloma lata.
The latent stage, interestingly, has no visible signs or symptoms, making it somewhat of a silent phase. As it goes on, it becomes more severe, affecting vital parts of the body as well as causing complications in the heart, neurological system, and other organs.
Simple Ways To Prevent And Control Congenital Syphilis
One simple way to prevent this infection fundamentally revolves around frequent testing for pregnant women, especially in the first trimester. There would be additional tests in the third trimester and at delivery, especially for those in high-risk communities or with exposure to syphilis. This timely and mandated screening in these different stages is vital and highly effective, curing both mother and fetus in the majority of cases.
However, late treatment might not erase all the symptoms present at birth. For post-diagnosis, it is important to examine family members for infection and reevaluate and possibly treat the mother in subsequent pregnancies or after adequate treatment if she remains seropositive or has been exposed to syphilis, to curb the transmission and manifestation of this condition.