is a bacterial infection usually transmitted by sexual contact. The disease
affects your genitals, skin and mucous membranes, but it may also involve many
other parts of your body, including your brain and your heart.
"pox," as syphilis was once known, first appeared in Europe in the 1490s,
triggering an epidemic that inspired such fear and misunderstanding that people
with the disease were commonly banned, even from many hospitals. Before
effective treatment was found nearly 500 years later, many of those with
syphilis suffered severe boils, pain, wasting, madness and death, often in shame
and social seclusion. However, lack of education and unsafe sex triggered a new
rise in syphilis incidence and this is disease has again been on the rise since
The signs and symptoms
of syphilis occur in three stages — primary, secondary and tertiary
These signs may
occur from 10 days to three months after exposure: -
painless sore (chancre,
a painless ulcer) on the part of your body where the infection was transmitted,
usually your genitals, rectum, tongue or lips. A single chancre is typical, but
there may be multiple sores.
nodes in your groin.
Primary syphilis typically
disappear without treatment, but the underlying disease remains and may reappear
in the secondary or third (tertiary) stage.
Secondary: - syphilis
may begin three to six weeks after the chancre appears, and may include: -
Rash marked by
red or reddish-brown, penny-sized sores over any area of your body, including
your palms and soles
Fatigue and a
vague feeling of discomfort
aching in your bones or joints
These signs and symptoms may
disappear and reappear for up to two years. In some people, periods called
latent syphilis — in which no symptoms are present and the disease is not
contagious — may follow the secondary stage. Signs and symptoms may never
return, or the disease may progress to the tertiary stage.
- without treatment, syphilis bacteria may spread, leading years later to
serious internal organ damage and death, some of the signs and symptoms of
tertiary syphilis include: -
Neurological problems: -
These may include stroke; infection and inflammation of the membranes and fluid
surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meningitis); poor muscle coordination;
numbness; paralysis; deafness or visual problems; personality changes; and
Cardiovascular problems: -
These may include bulging (aneurysm) and inflammation of the aorta — your body's
major artery — and of other blood vessels.
Causes, Risk factors and Complications
is contagious during its primary and secondary stages. The bacterial organism
that causes syphilis, Treponema pallidum,
enters your body through minor cuts or abrasions in your skin or mucous
membranes. The most common route of transmission is through contact with an
infected person's sore during sexual activity. Other routes are through
transfusion of infected blood, through direct unprotected close contact with an
active lesion (such as during kissing), and through an infected mother to her
unborn child during pregnancy.
is extremely sensitive to light, air and changes in temperature. It can live
only within the human body.
sexual activity puts you at risk of syphilis and other sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs). Who have unprotected sex are at special risk. Syphilis
incidence since 2000 has increased only among men, and about half the men
recently diagnosed with syphilis are also infected with the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Anyone who has unprotected
sex is at risk of contracting syphilis. Even if you've had syphilis and been
treated for it previously, you can contract it again.
If you're pregnant, it is
possible for you to pass syphilis to your unborn child. Blood containing the
bacteria reaches the fetus through the placenta. More than half of women who are
pregnant and who have active, untreated syphilis may pass the disease to their
unborn babies, and about one-fourth to one-half of these pregnancies will end in
miscarriage. If your baby is born infected with syphilis, signs of the disease
may be evident at birth or may develop when your baby is between 2 weeks and 3
Babies born with syphilis who
aren't treated early may experience serious complications, including: -
bridge (saddle nose)
Vision and hearing
screwdriver-shaped teeth (Hutchinson's
Scarring at the
site of early sores
People with syphilis also
have an estimated two- to fivefold increased risk of contracting HIV. A syphilis
sore can provide an easy way for HIV to enter your bloodstream during sexual
your risk of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, practice safe
or limit sexual relations to a single, uninfected partner.
If you don't
know the STD status of your partner, use a latex condom with each sexual
excessive use of alcohol or other drugs, which can cloud judgment and lead to
unsafe sexual practices.
When to seek medical advice
If you have painless sores in
your genital area and enlarged lymph nodes in your groin area, see doctor.
These may be signs of syphilis.
Treatment in the early stages of syphilis can
prevent serious, long-term illness and spread of the disease.