Syphilis is a bacterial infection transmitted through sexual contact. It can also be passed from a mother to an unborn child. Syphilis can be transmitted during vaginal, anal or oral sex, and the first signs of the disease are typically sores in these places. If left untreated, syphilis can progress to become a dangerous bacterial infection that leads to serious complications and even death in some cases.

Symptoms of Syphilis

The telltale sign of a syphilis infection is a sore that appears at the site where the infection occurred. This usually develops on the genitals, anus, rectum or mouth. The sore is often firm and round, but it usually causes no pain, so it’s sometimes easy to miss. It goes away after a few weeks with or without treatment, but without treatment the disease continues to progress.>

As syphilis progresses to its secondary stage, the sores from the first stage may return, but they are accompanied by more widespread skin rashes on other areas of the body, like the hands and feet. People may also experience fatigue, fever, muscle aches, weight loss, sore throat and other symptoms. Here again, without treatment the syphilis continues to grow and cause late-stage symptoms over the course of many years. These can be much more serious and include complications like mobility problems, paralysis, blindness, dementia and major organ damage. The long-term result can be death without treatment.

Prevention and Treatment

People can avoid syphilis infection through sexual abstinence or by being in a monogamous sexual relationship with a partner who does not have syphilis. Condom use can also help to prevent the spread of syphilis bacteria. Once syphilis is detected and diagnosed by a health care provider, it’s fairly easy to treat with a basic course of antibiotics. But early diagnosis and treatment is important to prevent long-term complications.

SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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