Syphilis - Topic Overview
Syphilis is a
sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. If it's not
treated by a doctor, it can get worse over time and cause serious health
The infection can be active at times and not active at
other times. When the infection is active, you have symptoms. When it's not
active, you don't have symptoms, even though you still have syphilis. But even
when you don't have symptoms, you can pass syphilis to others.
have to have sexual intercourse to get syphilis. Just being in close contact
with an infected person's genitals, mouth, or rectum is enough to expose you to
Bacteria cause syphilis.
They usually enter the body through the tissues that line the throat, nose,
rectum, and vagina. A person with syphilis who has a sore or a rash can pass
the infection to others. An infected pregnant woman can also pass syphilis to her
Some things increase your chance of getting syphilis. They
- Having unprotected sex (such as not using
condoms or not using them correctly). This risk is high among men who have
unsafe sex with other men.
- Having more than one sex partner and
living in an area where syphilis is common.
- Having a sex partner
who has syphilis.
- Having sex with a partner who has many sex
- Trading sex for drugs or money.
You may not notice symptoms
of syphilis. Sometimes they are the same as symptoms for other infections. This
can cause someone with the infection to put off seeing a doctor. And it can make
it harder for a doctor to tell if you have syphilis.
stages of syphilis have different symptoms.
Primary stage: One of
the first signs is a painless open sore called a chancre (say "SHANK-er").
Because syphilis is usually spread when people have sexual contact, chancres
are often found in the mouth, the anus, or the genital area. They may also be
found wherever the bacteria entered the body.
Secondary stage: A skin rash and other symptoms may show up 2
to 8 weeks after a person is infected. At this stage, it is very easy to
spread the infection through contact with the mouth, the anus, the genitals, or
any area where there is a skin rash.
Latent stage: After the rash clears, a person may have a period with no
symptoms. This is often called the "hidden stage." Even though symptoms go
away, the bacteria that cause syphilis are still in the body and begin to
damage the internal organs. This stage may be as short as 1 year or last from 5
to 20 years. Often, a woman with latent-stage syphilis doesn't find out that
she has the infection until she gives birth to a child with
Late (tertiary) stage: If syphilis
is not found and treated in the early stages, it can cause other serious health
problems. These can include blindness, problems with the
nervous system and the heart, and mental disorders. It
can also cause death.