The incidence of congenital syphilis has increased rapidly over the past few years. Most infected mothers and their newborns are asymptomatic at birth and diagnosis depends on serologic testing during pregnancy and at delivery. This study was initiated to compare maternal sera, cord blood, and neonatal sera for detecting presumptive congenital syphilis and to assess the role of maternal treatment (administration of penicillin to the mother at least 1 month before delivery) on the serologic results at the time of delivery. The serologic results from all live deliveries complicated by a positive maternal and/or neonatal test for syphilis during a 12-month period were compared using χ2 analysis and multiple comparisons for proportions. Of 3306 livebirths, 73 (2.2%) were complicated by a positive maternal or neonatal serology. At delivery, the serologic test was positive in 68 (94%) of 72 maternal sera, 30 (50%) of 60 cord sera, and 43 (63%) of 68 neonatal sera. In the absence of maternal treatment, 95% of the maternal sera, 66% of the cord blood samples, and 86% of the neonatal sera were positive. If the mother had been treated, 94% of maternal sera, 36% of cord sera, and 39% of neonatal sera were positive. Cord blood and neonatal sera appear to be inferior to maternal sera for detecting prenatal exposure to syphilis. Cord serology is also inferior to neonatal serology at 2 to 3 days of age. The most effective way to identify newborns at risk for congenital syphilis is to obtain a maternal serologic diagnosis during pregnancy and to test maternal and neonatal sera at delivery.
- Received December 27, 1991.
- Accepted July 14, 1992.
- Copyright © 1993 by the American Academy of Pediatrics