Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2006

Kimberly A. Workowski, MD; Stuart M. Berman, MD

Disclosures

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2006;55(30):1-94. 

In This Article

Congenital Syphilis

Effective prevention and detection of congenital syphilis depends on the identification of syphilis in pregnant women and, therefore, on the routine serologic screening of pregnant women during the first prenatal visit. In communities and populations in which the risk for congenital syphilis is high, serologic testing and a sexual history also should be obtained at 28 weeks' gestation and at delivery. Moreover, as part of the management of pregnant women who have syphilis, information concerning treatment of sex partners should be obtained to assess the risk for reinfection. All pregnant women who have syphilis should be tested for HIV infection. Routine screening of newborn sera or umbilical cord blood is not recommended. Serologic testing of the mother's serum is preferred rather than testing of the infant's serum because the serologic tests performed on infant serum can be nonreactive if the mother's serologic test result is of low titer or was infected late in pregnancy (see Diagnostic Considerations and Use of Serologic Tests). No infant or mother should leave the hospital unless the maternal serologic status has been documented at least once during pregnancy, and at delivery in communities and populations in which the risk for congenital syphilis is high.

The diagnosis of congenital syphilis is complicated by the transplacental transfer of maternal nontreponemal and treponemal IgG antibodies to the fetus. This transfer of antibodies makes the interpretation of reactive serologic tests for syphilis in infants difficult. Treatment decisions frequently must be made on the basis of 1) identification of syphilis in the mother; 2) adequacy of maternal treatment; 3) presence of clinical, laboratory, or radiographic evidence of syphilis in the infant; and 4) comparison of maternal (at delivery) and infant nontreponemal serologic titers by using the same test and preferably the same laboratory.

All infants born to mothers who have reactive nontreponemal and treponemal test results should be evaluated with a quantitative nontreponemal serologic test (RPR or VDRL) performed on infant serum because umbilical cord blood can become contaminated with maternal blood and could yield a false-positive result. Conducting a treponemal test (i.e., TP-PA or FTA-ABS) on a newborn's serum is not necessary. No commercially available immunoglobulin (IgM) test can be recommended.

All infants born to women who have reactive serologic tests for syphilis should be examined thoroughly for evidence of congenital syphilis (e.g., nonimmune hydrops, jaundice, hepatosplenomegaly, rhinitis, skin rash, and/or pseudoparalysis of an extremity). Pathologic examination of the placenta or umbilical cord by using specific fluorescent antitreponemal antibody staining is suggested. Darkfield microscopic examination or DFA staining of suspicious lesions or body fluids (e.g., nasal discharge) also should be performed.

The following scenarios describe the evaluation and treatment of infants for congenital syphilis:

Scenario 1. Infants with proven or highly probable disease and

  1. an abnormal physical examination that is consistent with congenital syphilis.

  2. a serum quantitative nontreponemal serologic titer that is fourfold higher than the mother's titer,§ o.

  3. a positive darkfield or fluorescent antibody test of body fluid(s).

Recommended Evaluation

  • CSF analysis for VDRL, cell count, and protein

  • Complete blood count (CBC) and differential and platelet count

  • Other tests as clinically indicated (e.g., long-bone radiographs, chest radiograph, liver-function tests, cranial ultrasound, ophthalmologic examination, and auditory brainstem response)

Recommended Regimens
Aqueous crystalline penicillin G 100,000--150,000 units/kg/day, administered as 50,000 units/kg/dose IV every 12 hours during the first 7 days of life and every 8 hours thereafter for a total of 10 days OR
Procaine penicillin G 50,000 units/kg/dose IM in a single daily dose for 10 days

If >1 day of therapy is missed, the entire course should be restarted. Data are insufficient regarding the use of other antimicrobial agents (e.g., ampicillin). When possible, a full 10-day course of penicillin is preferred, even if ampicillin was initially provided for possible sepsis. The use of agents other than penicillin requires close serologic follow-up to assess adequacy of therapy. In all other situations, the maternal history of infection with T. pallidum and treatment for syphilis must be considered when evaluating and treating the infant.

Scenario 2. Infants who have a normal physical examination and a serum quantitive nontreponemal serologic titer the same or less than fourfold the maternal titer and the

  1. mother was not treated, inadequately treated, or has no documentation of having received treatment.

  2. mother was treated with erythromycin or other nonpenicillin regimen;** o.

  3. mother received treatment <4 weeks before delivery.

Recommended Evaluation

  • CSF analysis for VDRL, cell count, and protein

  • CBC and differential and platelet count

  • Long-bone radiographs

A complete evaluation is not necessary if 10 days of parenteral therapy is administered. However, such evaluations might be useful; a lumbar puncture might document CSF abnormalities that would prompt close follow-up. Other tests (e.g., CBC, platelet count, and bone radiographs) may be performed to further support a diagnosis of congenital syphilis. If a single dose of benzathine penicillin G is used, then the infant must be fully evaluated (i.e., through CSF examination, long-bone radiographs, and CBC with platelets), the full evaluation must be normal, and follow-up must be certain. If any part of the infant's evaluation is abnormal or not performed or if the CSF analysis is rendered uninterpretable because of contamination with blood, then a 10-day course of penicillin is required.††

Recommended Regimens
Aqueous crystalline penicillin G 100,000--150,000 units/kg/day, administered as 50,000 units/kg/dose IV every 12 hours during the first 7 days of life and every 8 hours thereafter for a total of 10 days
OR
Procaine penicillin G
50,000 units/kg/dose IM in a single daily dose for 10 days
OR
Benzathine penicillin G 50,000 units/kg/dose IM in a single dose

Some specialists prefer the 10 days of parenteral therapy if the mother has untreated early syphilis at delivery.

Scenario 3. Infants who have a normal physical examination and a serum quantitative nontreponemal serologic titer the same or less than fourfold the maternal titer and the

  1. mother was treated during pregnancy, treatment was appropriate for the stage of infection, and treatment was administered >4 weeks before delivery; an.

  2. mother has no evidence of reinfection or relapse.

Recommended Evaluation

No evaluation is required.

Recommended Regimen
Benzathine penicillin G 50,000 units/kg/dose IM in a single dose§§

Scenario 4. Infants who have a normal physical examination and a serum quantitative nontreponemal serologic titer the same or less than fourfold the maternal titer and the

  1. mother's treatment was adequate before pregnancy, an.

  2. mother's nontreponemal serologic titer remained low and stable before and during pregnancy and at delivery (VDRL <1:2; RPR <1:4).

Recommended Evaluation

No evaluation is required.

Recommended Regimen
No treatment is required; however, some specialists would treat with benzathine penicillin G 50,000 units/kg as a single IM injection, particularly if follow-up is uncertain.

Children who are identified as having reactive serologic tests for syphilis after the neonatal period (i.e., aged >1 month) should have maternal serology and records reviewed to assess whether the child has congenital or acquired syphilis (see Primary and Secondary Syphilis and Latent Syphilis, Sexual Assault or Abuse of Children). Any child at risk for congenital syphilis should receive a full evaluation and testing for HIV infection.

Recommended Evaluation

  • CSF analysis for VDRL, cell count, and protein

  • CBC, differential, and platelet count

  • Other tests as clinically indicated (e.g., long-bone radiographs, chest radiograph, liver function tests, abdominal ultrasound, ophthalmologic examination, and auditory brain stem response)

Recommended Regimen
Aqueous crystalline penicillin G 200,000--300,000 units/kg/day IV, administered as 50,000 units/kg every 4--6 hours for 10 days

If the child has no clinical manifestations of disease, the CSF examination is normal, and the CSF VDRL test result is negative, some specialists would treat with up to 3 weekly doses of benzathine penicillin G, 50,000 U/kg IM.

Any child who is suspected of having congenital syphilis or who has neurologic involvement should be treated with aqueous penicillin G. Some specialists also suggest giving these patients a single dose of benzathine penicillin G, 50,000 units/kg IM after the 10-day course of IV aqueous penicillin. This treatment also would be adequate for children who might have other treponemal infections.

Follow-Up

All seroreactive infants (or infants whose mothers were seroreactive at delivery) should receive careful follow-up examinations and serologic testing (i.e., a nontreponemal test) every 2--3 months until the test becomes nonreactive or the titer has decreased fourfold. Nontreponemal antibody titers should decline by age 3 months and should be nonreactive by age 6 months if the infant was not infected (i.e., if the reactive test result was caused by passive transfer of maternal IgG antibody) or was infected but adequately treated. The serologic response after therapy might be slower for infants treated after the neonatal period. If these titers are stable or increase after age 6--12 months, the child should be evaluated (e.g., given a CSF examination) and treated with a 10-day course of parenteral penicillin G.

Treponemal tests should not be used to evaluate treatment response because the results for an infected child can remain positive despite effective therapy. Passively transferred maternal treponemal antibodies can be present in an infant until age 15 months. A reactive treponemal test after age 18 months is diagnostic of congenital syphilis. If the nontreponemal test is nonreactive at this time, no further evaluation or treatment is necessary. If the nontreponemal test is reactive at age 18 months, the infant should be fully (re)evaluated and treated for congenital syphilis.

Infants whose initial CSF evaluations are abnormal should undergo a repeat lumbar puncture approximately every 6 months until the results are normal. A reactive CSF VDRL test or abnormal CSF indices that cannot be attributed to other ongoing illness requires re-treatment for possible neurosyphilis.

Follow-up of children treated for congenital syphilis after the newborn period should be conducted as is recommended for neonates.

Special Considerations

Penicillin Allergy

Infants and children who require treatment for syphilis but who have a history of penicillin allergy or develop an allergic reaction presumed secondary to penicillin should be desensitized, if necessary, and then treated with penicillin (see Management of Patients With a History of Penicillin Allergy). Data are insufficient regarding the use of other antimicrobial agents (e.g., ceftriaxone); if a nonpenicillin agent is used, close serologic and CSF follow-up are indicated.

HIV Infection

Evidence is insufficient to determine whether infants who have congenital syphilis and whose mothers are coinfected with HIV require different evaluation, therapy, or follow-up for syphilis than is recommended for all infants.

Penicillin Shortage

During periods when the availability of penicillin is compromised, the following is recommended (see http://www.cdc.gov/nchstp/dstd/penicillinG.htm):

  1. For infants with clinical evidence of congenital syphilis (Scenario 1), check local sources for aqueous crystalline penicillin G (potassium or sodium). If IV penicillin G is limited, substitute some or all daily doses with procaine penicillin G (50,000 U/kg/dose IM a day in a single daily dose for 10 days).

If aqueous or procaine penicillin G is not available, ceftriaxone (in doses according to age and weight) may be considered with careful clinical and serologic follow-up. Ceftriaxone must be used with caution in infants with jaundice. For infants aged ≥30 days, use 75 mg/kg IV/IM a day in a single daily dose for 10--14 days; however, dose adjustment might be necessary based on birthweight. For older infants, the dose should be 100 mg/kg a day in a single daily dose. Studies that strongly support ceftriaxone for the treatment of congenital syphilis have not been conducted. Therefore, ceftriaxone should be used in consultation with a specialist in the treatment of infants with congenital syphilis. Management may include a repeat CSF examination at age 6 months if the initial examination was abnormal.

        2. For infants at risk for congenital syphilis without any clinical evidence of infection (Scenarios 2 and 3), use
            a. procaine penicillin G, 50,000 U/kg/dose IM a day in a single dose for 10 days;
            OR
           b. benzathine penicillin G, 50,000 U/kg IM as a single dose.

If any part of the evaluation for congenital syphilis is abnormal, CSF examination is not interpretable, CSF examination was not performed, or follow-up is uncertain, Procaine penicillin G is recommended. A single dose of ceftriaxone is inadequate therapy.

        3. For premature infants at risk for congenital syphilis but who have no other clinical evidence of infection (Scenarios 2 and 3) and who might not tolerate IM injections because of decreased muscle  
            mass, IV ceftriaxone may be considered with careful clinical and serologic follow-up (see Penicillin Shortage, Number 1). Ceftriaxone dosing must be adjusted to age and birthweight.

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