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Who Is Affected by Syphilis

Syphilis is a reportable infectious disease in the United States. It tends to be most common in large metropolitan cities.

Since the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin, the incidence of syphilis in the general population has dropped, as have many other infectious diseases. But after hitting an all-time low in 2000, the rate of syphilis infection has been going up.1

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  • Syphilis is most common in sexually active women age 15 to 30 years and men 15 to 54 years old.2
  • About 6 out of 10 syphilis infections affect men who have sex with men (MSM).1
  • There has been a rise in the number of people who have both syphilis and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This is especially the case among men who have sex with men (MSM).1

Open syphilis sores provide easy access to transmit or receive HIV infection during sexual intercourse. This may be particularly important in those parts of the country, such as the southern half of the United States, where rates of both infections are high.

Syphilis without another sexually transmitted infection is now more commonly seen in adults older than 30 years of age.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2009. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Available online:

  2. Tramont EC (2010). Treponema pallidum (syphilis). In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 3035–3058. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Devika Singh, MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
Last Revised September 29, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 29, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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