There have been great political, social, and economic changes in Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and Bulgaria since 1990 that have caused syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), to become very common. Poverty, unemployment, migration, and changes in values and sexual mores have put large populations at risk of STD’s.
Eastern European governments including Bulgaria have reacted strongly to the rising rates of syphilis and other STD’s including gonorrhea and HIV. Medical treatment is effective and readily available. If a person has been tested and knows they have syphilis, it is easily treated with penicillin or other antibiotics. Although syphilis is serious, if detected and treated early, it can be completely cured.
Those at greatest risk of acquiring syphilis are economically disadvantaged young adult women and men. It is therefore common that many mothers who choose adoption rather than parenting may have a history of syphilis. In these cases, it is possible that a child’s medical report may list exposure to syphilis (sometimes translated as Lues, an older term for syphilis) as a medical condition, or it may simply state that the mother was known to have syphilis.
Congenital syphilis occurs in children whose mothers have had syphilis while they were pregnant. When a pregnant woman has syphilis that has not been treated, she may transmit the infection to her baby. When a mother has syphilis, her body produces proteins in the blood to combat the bacterial infection. These proteins are called antibodies and the baby can then get those antibodies through the placenta during pregnancy.
Twenty percent of babies with congenital syphilis are stillborn or die in the first few weeks of life. About 60% of babies with congenital syphilis have no symptoms at birth. Most babies (80%) are diagnosed before 3 months of age. Although this sounds scary, it is important to realize that congenital syphilis can be completely cured if detected and treated early.
The Bulgarian medical system has done an excellent job in the management of syphilis in newborn infants. They cannot differentiate exposure from actual infection so they treat all children. Children who are exposed to mothers with active or treated syphilis are given 14-28 days of daily intramuscular injections of penicillin. This therapy is effective at treating cases of congenital syphilis.
As always, we recommend that parents take their adopted children to an international medical specialist for a checkup and to seek confirmation that their child has been treated with penicillin. It is clear the presence of congenital syphilis on a medical report should not prevent orphans in Bulgaria from obtaining a loving, forever family.
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