What is Syphilis?

  • A sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum
  • The incidence was highest in women ages 20-24 and in men ages 35-39
  • The number of syphilis cases is increasing


  • Transmitted from person to person through skin-to-skin contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • Sores may occur on the external genitals, vagina, anus, rectum, lips or mouth
  • Pregnant women can pass it their babies
  • Cannot be spread through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing, eating utensils


  • Genital sores caused by syphilis make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV

Pregnancy Complications

  • During pregnancy, the bacterium can infect the baby
  • An infected baby may be born without any signs or symptoms
  • Without treatment the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks


  • A blood test is used to detect the syphilis antibodies
  • Every pregnant woman should have a blood test


  • Easily cured in the early stages with penicillin
  • Those receiving treatment must abstain from sexual contact until the sores are completely healed
  • Persons with syphilis must notify their sex partners so they can be tested and receive treatment


  • The best way to prevent transmission of any sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sexual contact
  • Syphilis can occur in both male and female genital areas that are not covered by a male latex condom as well as areas that are covered
  • Use of latex male condoms can only reduce the risk of syphilis if the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected
  • Transmission of an STD cannot be prevented by washing the genitals, urinating, and/or douching after sex
  • Cannot be spread through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing, eating utensils
  • Those with any unusual discharge, sore, or rash particularly in the groin area should refrain from sexual contact and see a doctor immediately
  • Having syphilis once does not protect a person from getting it again


  • Many people do not have any symptoms for years but are at risk for late complications if not treated
  • Many of these sores go unrecognized thus transmission of the disease may occur without people being aware of their infection
  • Primary Stage
    • Marked by the appearance of a single sore called a chancre but there may be multiple sores
    • Time from infection to symptoms can range from 10-90 days
    • Chancre is usually firm, round, small, painless
    • Sore appears where syphilis entered the body
    • Chancre lasts 3-6 weeks and heals without treatment
    • If treatment does not occur, the infection progresses to the secondary stage
  • Secondary Stage
    • Skin rash is typical and characteristically found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
    • Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, fatigue
  • Late and Latent Stages
    • The latent stage is the hidden stage and begins when primary and secondary symptoms disappear and may last for years
    • In the late stages the disease damages internal organs including the brain, eyes, hear, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints
    • The damage may be serious enough to cause death and is irreversible