Congenital syphilis: A contemporary update on an ancient disease

Prenat Diagn. 2020 Dec;40(13):1703-1714. doi: 10.1002/pd.5728. Epub 2020 Jul 20.


Congenital syphilis (CS) rates reached a 20-year high in the United States in 2018. Unlike previous years, most babies diagnosed with CS were born to mothers who received prenatal care, indicative of the need for better provider education and guideline adherence. Current rates suggest that screening for syphilis should be performed at the first prenatal care visit and twice during the third trimester. There are two diagnostic algorithms available for use in the United States (traditional and reverse) and providers must understand how to perform each algorithm. Treatment should be administered according to stage of syphilis per Centers for Disease Control recommendations with best neonatal outcomes seen when treatment is initiated >30 days before delivery. Benzathine Penicillin G remains the only recommended treatment of syphilis during pregnancy. In viable pregnancies, a pretreatment ultrasound is recommended to identify sonographic evidence of fetal infection and treatment should be initiated with continuous fetal monitoring to evaluate for the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction which can cause preterm labor and fetal distress. After adequate syphilotherapy, a fourfold decline in maternal nontreponemal titers may not be observed by delivery and does not correlate with rates of CS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control
  • Penicillin G Benzathine / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / epidemiology
  • Prenatal Care / methods
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods
  • Syphilis, Congenital* / diagnosis
  • Syphilis, Congenital* / epidemiology
  • Syphilis, Congenital* / therapy
  • Syphilis, Congenital* / transmission
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Penicillin G Benzathine