What is Syphilis? What Causes It?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The first symptom is usually a small, painless sore (chancre) on your skin, penis, vagina, anus or mouth.

Syphilis is spread by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has a syphilis chancre (sore). You can also catch (or spread) it by kissing someone who has a chancre. You can’t get or spread it by sharing a toilet or swimming pool with an infected person. Nor can you get it by touching items an infected person touched.

The bacteria that causes syphilis enters the body through in your skin or through your mucus membranes.

If you’re pregnant and have syphilis, you can spread it to your unborn baby. Doctors call this congenital syphilis. You can also pass it to your baby during childbirth or breastfeeding.

Syphilis is easily treated with antibiotics in its early stages. Once cured, it doesn't come back on its own. But you can become infected again if you have sex with someone who has it.

The best way to avoid getting syphilis is to not have sex. If you do have sex, it's important to use condoms and to limit the number of partners you have.

If you think you were exposed to syphilis, your partner or partners should also be tested and treated to help prevent spreading it.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Trina Pagano, MD on April 08, 2019



CDC: “Syphilis Facts.”

Mayo Clinic: “Diseases and Conditions.”

MedlinePlus: “Syphilis.”

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.