[Maternal and congenital syphilis]

J Gynecol Obstet Biol Reprod (Paris). 1998 Mar;27(2):150-60.
[Article in French]


Testing for syphilis during pregnancy reveals a positive serologic status in 0.02% of cases. However, a 66% rate of stillbirths is noted in women who are infected and who have not benefited from any treatment. Routine screening is at present performed during the early stages of pregnancy but a second serologic test during the third trimester is useful in the diagnosis of a late infection especially in drug users or HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) positive patients. Congenital syphilis is diagnosed in utero when a positive maternal serologic status is associated with ultrasound images showing fetal abnormalities; these include hepatosplenomegaly, hyperechogenic bowel, signs of bowel obstruction or fetal hydrops. Maternal syphilis is treated by delayed action penicillin and is indicated even for patients allergic to the antibiotic which in this particular case is delivered after desensitization. First line therapy by intravenous penicillin is indicated when confronted with the following high risk factors of congenital syphilis: an elevated titre of VDRL (venereal disease research laboratory) at the time of diagnosis or delivery, unknown date of the precise onset of the infection, the appearance of a rash or of a chancre during pregnancy, ultrasound fetal abnormalities or late therapy during the third trimester. Treatment of the new-born child will depend on the results of clinical, serologic and X-ray evaluation. Long term follow-up for at least a year is mandatory.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aftercare
  • Algorithms
  • Decision Trees
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical*
  • Mass Screening
  • Penicillins / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / diagnosis*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy*
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Syphilis / diagnosis*
  • Syphilis / drug therapy*
  • Syphilis / transmission
  • Syphilis, Congenital / diagnosis*
  • Syphilis, Congenital / drug therapy*


  • Penicillins