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Molecular Diagnostic Test for Congenital Syphilis Could Enable Immediate Treatment

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 15 Sep 2023
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Image: Few sensitive diagnostic tests exist to determine if a baby has developed congenital syphilis (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: Few sensitive diagnostic tests exist to determine if a baby has developed congenital syphilis (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Newborns with congenital syphilis may suffer from issues like bone damage, severe anemia, enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice, nerve issues leading to blindness or hearing loss, meningitis, or skin conditions. The severity of these health issues in the baby largely depends on whether the mother has received timely treatment for syphilis. At present, there are no sensitive diagnostic tests to confirm if a newborn has congenital syphilis. The current diagnostic approach is based on whether the mother has been treated for syphilis or if the baby shows any symptoms of the disease, along with abnormally high syphilis serology labs. As a result, doctors are forced to go through a checklist to assess if the mother has the infection and monitor the newborn for months to establish their infection status. Now, a molecular diagnostic test being developed for the detection of congenital syphilis could enable physicians to begin immediate treatment for newborns.

Researchers from UTHealth Houston (Houston, TX, USA) are working on creating a molecular diagnostic test that can quickly identify congenital syphilis, enabling immediate treatment for the affected newborns. The team is also planning a multicenter study that will examine the neurodevelopmental outcomes in babies born with the disease. This is particularly important as 60% of untreated babies born with syphilis suffer from neurodevelopmental issues.

“Our goal is to create a test for syphilis that is effective, so we can do immediate treatment,” said Irene Stafford, MD, at UTHealth Houston who is the principal investigator. “This test could be an incredible step in treating and diagnosing congenital syphilis.”

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