Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium treponema pallidum.
Syphilis is spread from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Transmission occurs during vaginal, oral or anal sex. Syphilis can be spread from mother to her baby during pregnancy or delivery.
Genital sores from syphilis make it easier to spread Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) (both passing it on and acquiring it).
Primary Stage (the first stage)
- A painless sore called a chancre ("shank-er") will appear 10-90 days after infection occurs.
- The chancre is usually firm, round, small and painless.
- The sore appears where the bacteria enters the body such as the vagina, penis, mouth or anus and may not be noticed.
- Symptoms may be mild.
- Symptoms may go away without treatment, but the infection will progress to the secondary stage.
Secondary Stage (the second stage)
- Starts two to four months after becoming infected and lasts for several weeks.
- Starts with a non-itchy rash.
- The rash may appear as rough, red or reddish brown spots on the palms of the hands and bottoms of the feet.
- Rashes with a different appearance may occur on other parts of the body.
- Other symptoms may be fever, swollen glands, sore throat, hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches and tiredness.
- The signs and symptoms will resolve without treatment, but the disease will progress to latent and possibly late stages of the disease.
Latent and Late Stages
- Begins when the symptoms of the secondary stage disappear.
- There are no signs or symptoms (latent stage), but the disease may begin to damage the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints.
- Symptoms may appear 10 to 20 years after infection (late stage) and may include difficulty in coordinating muscle movements, gradual blindness, dementia, and may result in death.
The long-term complications of Syphilis
It can damage the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints.
Syphilis in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, serious birth defects and possible death of the newborn.