What is syphilis in children?
Most pediatric cases of syphilis in children occur when a pregnant woman with syphilis transmits the disease to her fetus through the placenta or to the baby during delivery. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STI), so this condition can also be contacted if the child is sexually active or sexually abused.
A child infected with syphilis through sexual contact may not have any symptoms for up to three weeks after infection. If taken immediately, syphilis can be treated successfully. However, the outcome is more serious in children with congenital syphilis (at birth). They may also exhibit withdrawal symptoms and malignant symptoms.
Risk factors for syphilis in children
Several risk factors increase the risk of syphilis in children:
- Having incisions: This disease enters the bloodstream through openings in the skin (such as a cut).
- Having a mother with syphilis: It is possible for a mother to infect her baby during pregnancy or vaginal delivery.
- Being sexually active: People who are sexually active are at an increased risk of getting syphilis. Also, if you have more sex partners, you are more likely to get syphilis. Being with a partner who has multiple partners also increases your risk.
- Weakened immune system: The immune system is weakened due to HIV / AIDS, immunosuppressive drugs (organ transplants), or other causes.
Symptoms of syphilis in children
Syphilis has different stages. In the order in which they occur, they are:
- Primary syphilis
- Secondary syphilis
- Latent syphilis
- Late syphilis (also known as tertiary syphilis)
The main symptom of primary syphilis is one or more chancres (ulcers). They develop 3 weeks after someone is infected. The chancre occurs in the place of sexual intercourse (genitals, mouth, or rectum). They are usually painless. Chunker clears up in about 3 to 6 weeks, even without treatment. But without treatment, secondary syphilis moves to the next stage.
From a few weeks to a few months after the onset of the chancre, these symptoms begin:
- Rash, often on the palms and soles of the feet
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, joint pain, sore throat
- Swollen glands (lymph nodes)
- Acne-like lesions (condyloma lata) in warm, moist areas, mouth, and area around genitalia and anus
- Hair loss
Over time, secondary syphilis can cause liver, kidney, and digestive problems. The symptoms of secondary syphilis are eliminated. But without treatment, syphilis moves to the next stage, latent syphilis.
Anyone with latent syphilis is infected but has no symptoms (“latent” means that it is not obvious or causes symptoms). Syphilis is hidden for life. Or it can turn into late syphilis.
If latent syphilis turns into late syphilis (also known as tertiary syphilis), it can cause serious damage to the heart and blood vessels, brain and nervous system, and other organs.
Late syphilis usually develops 1 to 30 years after infection. Anyone who does not have symptoms of primary or secondary syphilis can develop late syphilis.
Diagnosis of syphilis in children
- Early congenital syphilis: an examination of the material of the skin, placenta, and/or umbilical cord. Maternal and newborn blood tests. And lumbar puncture, other blood tests, and bone x-rays
- Late congenital syphilis: blood tests of mother and child
Treatment for syphilis in children
Health care providers treat syphilis in children with antibiotics. These drugs are given by injection or through a vein (intravenous infusion). How long a person needs treatment depends on the stage of syphilis. Syphilis is cured. But the medical problems that cause it, such as dementia, arterial damage, or blindness, are usually incurable.
After treatment, additional tests will confirm that the infection is cured.
If necessary, all sexual partners should be examined and treated:
- For primary syphilis: Partners in the past 3 months
- For secondary syphilis: Partners in the past 6 months
- For latent syphilis: Last year’s partners (because there may be unrecognized chancre or condylomata lata)
The diagnosis of early syphilis in children is usually based on the results of a pregnant woman’s blood tests, which occur early in pregnancy and recurs frequently in the third trimester and during delivery. If a pregnant woman has syphilis, doctors suspect that she may also have a newborn.
To find out if a newborn baby born to an infected woman has syphilis, doctors will perform a thorough physical examination and look for sores or rashes. If there are any sores or rashes, doctors will take samples and examine them under a microscope for bacteria. They also test the placenta, umbilical cord, and newborn baby’s blood for syphilis.
Babies and young children who have symptoms of syphilis or who have a positive blood test should also have a lumbar puncture (pelvic puncture). Doctors also take X-rays of the bones to look for changes in the bones that are a symptom of congenital syphilis.
Doctors suspect congenital syphilis based on the physical examination and the results of maternal and infant blood tests.
Doctors examine children and look for specific problems caused by the infection. Specific problems include swelling of the eyes, dental deformities, and deafness. Congenital syphilis is diagnosed in children with these specific problems.
Departments to consult for this condition
- Department of dermatology