Case control study identifying the maternal risk factors for congenital syphilis in Texas: 1998–2001

Darline K El Reda, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. Congenital syphilis (CS) is the oldest recognized congenital infection in the world. CS infection can affect multiple organs and can even cause neonatal death. CS is largely preventable when maternal syphilis is treated in an adequate and timely manner. During the decade of the nineties, rates of CS in Texas have often exceeded the overall US rate. Few studies, with adequate sample sizes, have been conducted to determine the risk factors associated with CS while controlling for factors associated with adult (maternal) syphilis infection. Objective. To determine the current maternal risk factors for CS infection in Texas from 1998–2001. Methods. A total of 1083 women with positive serological tests for syphilis during pregnancy or at delivery were reported to, and assessed by, health department surveillance staff. Mothers delivering infants in Texas between January 1, 1998 and June 30, 2001 comprised the study population. Mothers of infants diagnosed with confirmed or presumptive CS (N = 291) were compared to mothers of infants diagnosed as non-cases (N = 792) to determine the risk factors for vertical transmission (while controlling for risk factors of horizontal transmission). Logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine the associated odds between selected maternal variables and the outcome of CS. Results. Among 291 case infants, 5 (1.7%), 12 (4.1%), 274 (94.2%) were classified as confirmed cases, syphilitic stillbirths, and presumptive cases, respectively. Lack of maternal syphilis treatment was the strongest predictor of CS: odds ratio (OR) = 199.57 (95% CI 83.45–477.25) compared to those receiving treatment before pregnancy, while women treated during their pregnancies were also at increased risk (OR = 6.67, 95% CI 4.01–11.08). Women receiving no prenatal care were more likely (OR = 2.77, 95% CI 1.60–4.79) to have CS infants than those receiving prenatal care. Single women had higher odds (OR = 1.90, 95% CI 1.10–3.26) than ever-married women. African-Americans (OR 0.91, 95% CI 0.37–2.23) and Hispanics (OR = 1.66, 95% CI 0.68–4.05) may be more likely to have a CS infant than non-Hispanic Whites. Conclusions. The burden of CS in Texas can be alleviated through the provision of quality health care services, particularly prenatal care and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

El Reda, Darline K, "Case control study identifying the maternal risk factors for congenital syphilis in Texas: 1998–2001" (2002). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3146400.