Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is caused by a bacterium.
How it is spread Syphilis is passed from person-to-person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores can also occur on the lips and in the mouth. The bacterium is transferred during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Pregnant women with the disease can pass it to the babies they are carrying. You cannot get syphilis through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing or eating utensils.
Signs & Symptoms
Many people infected with syphilis do not have any symptoms for years. During the primary stage syphilis is usually marked by the appearance of a single sore, but there may be multiple sores. Skin rash and mucous membrane lesions characterise the secondary stage. This stage starts with the development of a rash on one or more areas of the body. In addition to rashes symptoms of the secondary stage may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches and fatigue. The latent stage of syphilis begins when primary and secondary symptoms disappear. The infected person will continue to have syphilis even though there are no symptoms or signs. In the late stages of syphilis the disease may damage internal organs including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints. Symptoms may include difficulty co-ordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness and dementia.
The best way to avoid any sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sex or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected. Latex condoms, when used correctly and consistently, can reduce the risk of transmission.
Syphilis is easy to treat in its early stages. A single injection of penicillin will cure a person who has had syphilis for less than a year. Persons who receive syphilis treatment must abstain from sexual contact until the sores are completely healed. Persons with syphilis must notify their sex partners so they can also be tested and receive treatment if necessary.