What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. It used to be called the “French disease” or the “French pox,” though it actually probably originated in the Americas and was transmitted to the rest of the world when Europeans met the Native Americans for the first time.


How common is Syphilis?

According to the CDC, every year about 55,000 people are infected with Syphilis. Over 70% of infections occur in men who have sex with other men.


How do people get Syphilis?

Syphilis is passed down from person to person through direct contact with Syphilis sores. The sores are mainly on the genital area but they can also be on the lips and in the mouth as a result of oral sex. Pregnant women who are infected can also pass it down to their babies.


What are the signs and symptoms?

Many people who are infected do not develop symptoms for years, but are at risk for complications later on if they are not treated.


Primary stage

  • A single sore (called a chancre) appears

Secondary Stage

  • More sores, which can erupt any time after the primary sore starts to heal, up to several weeks later
  • Skin rash on one or more areas of the body
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Late Stage

  • Damage occurs to the internal organs such as the brain, eyes, nerves and heart
  • Difficulties with muscle movement
  • Paralysis
  • Numbness
  • Dementia
How is Syphilis diagnosed?

A physician can examine the infectious sore (chancre) and order a blood test to determine whether a person has Syphilis. Because Syphilis can be passed down from a pregnant woman to her child, all at-risk pregnant women should be tested.


What is the treatment for Syphilis?

Syphilis is easy to cure in the early stages; a single injection of penicillin will cure a person who has been infected with Syphilis for a year. Additional doses will be needed for individuals who have been infected for a longer period of time. Other antibiotics are available for those with penicillin allergies. As always, the earlier you can get treated, the easier it will be to get rid of the infection.


If you want to find out more, here are some websites with accurate information about Syphilis:

Centers for Disease Control – Syphilis
WebMD – Syphilis