Congenital syphilis: how to prevent the disease from passing from mother to child

Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world, as it presents approximately 6 million new cases each year. Since 2016, the Ministry of Health has declared an epidemic of the disease, these being the numbers of syphilis in Brazil, according to the last bulletin released in October 2019 (data referring to the year 2018):

75.8 cases of syphilis for every 100 thousand inhabitants

9 cases per thousand live births

21.4 cases of syphilis in pregnant women per thousand live births

Most in the southeast region, with 53.5% of cases

Most affected population are black women, aged between 20 and 29 years

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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum , which can be transmitted through sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal and oral) or can be transmitted to the child during pregnancy or childbirth.

It can present itself in the most varied clinical forms and is classified into different stages: primary, secondary, latent and tertiary syphilis.

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Primary syphilis

In the first stage, small wounds appear at the site of entry of the bacteria, but they do not bring pain or itching, and disappear spontaneously.

Secondary syphilis

In the first stage, small wounds appear at the site of entry of the bacteria, but they do not bring pain or itching, and disappear spontaneously.

Latent syphilis

The latent form is even quieter, being detected only by immunological tests. Generally, at this stage the individual has had the infection for more than 2 years.

Tertiary syphilis

The last phase of the disease is the most serious, as the patient may have skin, bone, cardiovascular and neurological problems that can lead to death. This stage can appear decades after infection.

Congenital syphilis

In babies, congenital syphilis is fatal in 40% of cases. In addition, the disease can also lead to low birth weight, prematurity and other congenital deformities.

However, it is important to note that the infection is curable, in adults it can be treated with penicillin injections. The number of injections varies according to the stage of the disease.

Babies need to be closely monitored from birth so that proper treatment can be done and possible sequelae discovered in the future.


Even if there are no symptoms, it is important to have a syphilis test, which is available at any health facility in Brazil. Especially fathers and mothers who are expecting a baby need to diagnose the disease as soon as possible so that treatment is as fast as possible, preferably in the first 3 months of pregnancy.

Once diagnosed, if the result is positive for a mother or father, treatment is offered free of charge by SUS.


by Abdullah Sam
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