What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It occurs due to a bacterium named Treponema pallidum, which affects both men and women of all → ages, races, and sexual orientations. It is a severe disease, that can cause long-term health problems if people don’t treat it. In this article, we’ll give you an overview and how it came to be.

Syphilis Chancre Left Index Finger

More about Syphilis

It is a bacterial infection that mainly spreads through sexual contact with an infected person. A pregnant woman can also spread it to her unborn baby, or someone can contract it through direct contact with an infected sore. There are four stages of progression and each stage has its unique symptoms.

  1. Primary Syphilis: The initial stage marks the beginning when a painless sore or ulcer shows up at the infection site. The sore usually heals on its own within a few weeks.
  2. Secondary Syphilis: This stage typically occurs a few weeks to a few months after the initial infection. You might experience symptoms like → a rash, fever, sore throat, & swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may also go away on their own, but the infection remains in the body.
  3. Latent Syphilis: This stage has no visible symptoms and can last for years. However, the infection can be spreading to others during this time.
  4. Tertiary Syphilis: The final stage of Syphilis is the most severe one & it can happen years, or even decades, after the initial infection. The brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints might suffer damage.

What is the History of Syphilis?

It has existed for centuries. People have given it various names such as → “Great pox,” “French disease,” and “Italian disease”.

At the beginning of the disease, individuals would experience the formation of sores on their bodies. These sores often had a thick, white material covering them. This led to the belief that the sores were a result of God’s punishment for immoral behavior. As the disease spreads to evolve, physicians began to recognize the signs & symptoms of Syphilis, and efforts to treat and prevent the disease started to emerge.

Now we have a basic understanding of the disease, so in the following section, we will discuss the causes and transmission.

Causes and Transmission

The bacterium Treponema pallidum causes Syphilis. It spreads through sexual contact. People typically spread it through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. During pregnancy or childbirth, a mother can transmit the infection to her baby. In rare cases, individuals can acquire Syphilis through non-sexual contact with an open sore or infected blood. To prevent the spread, it is important to practice safe sex and get regularly tested for STIs.

Here is an explanation of the causes and transmission.

Causes of Syphilis

Treponema pallidum bacteria can enter the body through open sores or breaks in the skin, typically during sexual contact with an infected partner. Syphilis, however, can transmit through blood transfusions or when an infected mother passes it to her child during pregnancy. Medical professionals refer to this transmission as congenital.

Here is an explanation of the modes of syphilis transmission:

Modes of Transmission of Syphilis

1. Sexual Contact

People commonly transmit this through sexual contact. When you have sex with an infected partner, whether it’s → vaginal, anal or oral, the infection spreads. Syphilis sores or chancres can appear on or around the genitals, anus, or mouth, & the bacteria can enter the body through these sores. Even if the person infected doesn’t have visible sores or symptoms, they can still transmit it.

2. Blood Transfusion

Blood Transfusion

Syphilis can infect someone through a blood transfusion or an organ transplant from a donor who is infected. However, this mode of transmission is rare due to the widespread screening of donated blood and organs.

3. Mother-to-Child Transmission

Mother-to-Child Transmission-of-Syphilis
Mother-to-Child Transmission

When a pregnant woman gets Syphilis. she can pass the infection on to her baby. During any stage of pregnancy, pregnant women can experience this. If they don’t receive treatment, the risk of transmitting the infection increases. Congenital Syphilis can seriously harm the baby’s health. Stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental delays are all consequences that arise as a result.

It’s important to know that it doesn’t spread through casual contact like → hugs, handshakes, or sharing utensils.

In the next section, we will discuss the stages of the disease.

Stages of Syphilis

If you don’t treat syphilis, this serious condition can cause long-term complications. Syphilis has several stages, each with its own set of symptoms & complications let’s see the different stages:

Primary Stage

The primary stage of Syphilis usually begins with the appearance of a painless sore, known as a chancre, at the site of infection. The chancre can appear on the genitals, anus, or mouth. It typically appears within 3 weeks after infection & lasts for 3 to 6 weeks.

Primary stage of Syphilis

During this stage, the bacteria are highly infectious and can be easily spread through sexual contact. Getting tested & treated during this stage is crucial to prevent the infection from progressing to the next stage.

Secondary Stage

If left untreated, Syphilis can progress to the secondary stage, which usually occurs several weeks after the chancre appears. In this stage, the bacteria spreads all over the body. This results in a variety of symptoms.

Secondary stage

In the secondary stage, a rash becomes the most common symptom, and it can show up on any part of your body. Usually, the rash isn’t itchy and it might come with other symptoms like → fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. Other symptoms that may occur include patchy hair loss, headaches, and muscle aches.

Latent Stage

After the secondary stage, Syphilis enters a latent stage, during which there are no visible symptoms. But the bacteria still linger inside the body, and doctors can identify them using blood tests. The latent stage can last for years, during which time the infection may progress to the tertiary stage.

Tertiary Stage

The tertiary stage of Syphilis is the most severe and can cause serious complications if left untreated. It typically appears a few years after infection & can disrupt various organs in your body, including the heart, brain, and nerves.

NeuroSyphilis, a complication commonly seen in the tertiary stage, can lead to symptoms like dementia, blindness, and paralysis. Complications can include cardiovascular diseases such as → aortic aneurysms. Furthermore, there are gummatous lesions, which are growths resembling soft tumors. That can occur on any part of the body.

Now, let’s move to the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors can diagnose Syphilis by conducting → a physical examination, performing blood tests, or testing fluid from a sore. Doctors typically treat Syphilis with antibiotics, with penicillin being the most commonly used medication. They may prescribe various courses of treatment.

Blood Tests

Doctors conduct blood tests to diagnose Syphilis. This detects antibodies to the bacteria known as Treponema pallidum. People usually conduct these tests when they experience symptoms or when they have had exposure to an infected individual. 


Medical professionals commonly use the following tests to diagnose the disease:

1. Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) Test

This test looks for antibodies to the bacteria that cause Syphilis. However, it can also give false positive results in people who have had the infection in the past. Also, who have other conditions that cause similar antibodies to form.

2. Rapid Plasma Reagin (RPR) Test

This test is similar to the VDRL test but is more sensitive and specific in detecting Syphilis antibodies. It is often used to confirm a positive VDRL result.

3. Treponemal Tests

These tests directly detect antibodies to Treponema pallidum and are highly specific. However, they may not become positive until several weeks after infection.


When doctors diagnose Syphilis, they usually treat it with a course of antibiotics, like → penicillin. The stage of the infection, allergies, or other medical conditions, determine the type & duration of treatment. The following are some common treatments for Syphilis.

  1. Penicillin: This antibiotic works well for treating Syphilis, & doctors usually give it as an injection. The stage of the infection and other factors determine the dosage and duration of treatment.
  2. Doxycycline or Azithromycin: Doctors sometimes prescribe these antibiotics to people who are allergic to penicillin or in certain stages of the infection.
  3. Follow-up Testing: After the treatment, doctors usually perform follow-up blood tests to ensure that the infection has been cured. It’s really important. If you don’t do syphilis treatment, it can cause serious complications like → blindness, paralysis, and even death.

Long-Term Effects of Syphilis

When anyone lets Syphilis go untreated for a long time, the later stages of the disease can make it harder to treat. The infection is the one causing the difficulty, especially if you haven’t received any treatment. It happens when the bacteria infect a person. It advances in four stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.

1. Primary and Secondary Stages

In the primary and secondary stages of Syphilis, antibiotics like → penicillin typically offer an easy treatment for the infection. But, if the infection goes into the latent or tertiary stages, it might get tougher to treat it.

2. Latent Stage

The bacteria remain in the body and can cause serious damage to organs such as → the brain, heart, and eyes in latent Syphilis, despite the absence of symptoms. In this stage, treatment with antibiotics is still effective, but it may require longer courses of medication to completely clear the infection.

3. Tertiary Stage

The most severe stage of the disease is tertiary Syphilis, It can seriously damage multiple organ systems, such as the → brain, heart, bones, and nervous system. Treating tertiary Syphilis can pose challenges, as the infection can cause irreversible damage. Sometimes, doctors might recommend surgery or other specialized treatments to help the symptoms and complications of the disease.

Now, let’s discuss the prevention of the disease.

Prevention of Syphilis

Sexual contact, such as → vaginal, anal, and oral sex, as well as contact with Syphilis sore or rash, can transmit it. During pregnancy or childbirth, mothers can transmit Syphilis to their babies.

Luckily people can take steps to stop spreading the disease. These include:

Safe Sex Practices


Using safe sex practices is crucial in preventing the transmission of Syphilis. Using condoms during sexual contact can help to reduce the risk of transmission. Condoms don’t give you a 100% guarantee of stopping Syphilis transmission since the infection might be present in body parts not protected by a condom. However, using condoms consistently and correctly can still significantly reduce the risk of transmission.

Regular Testing for STI

Regularly testing for sexually transmitted infections, including Syphilis, is crucial for prevention. Testing can play a crucial role in detecting infections early, preventing their spread to others. As a sexually active individual, it’s crucial to undergo testing for Syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections at least once a year. You may need more frequent testing if you have multiple sexual partners or engage in high-risk sexual behaviours.

Screening During Pregnancy


During pregnancy or childbirth, mothers can pass Syphilis to their babies, leading to serious health issues for the newborn. However, if doctors detect and treat Syphilis during pregnancy, they can significantly decrease the chances of transmitting the infection. For this reason, it’s recommended that all pregnant women be screened for Syphilis early in pregnancy. If they are at high risk of infection then again later in pregnancy.

In the last section of this article, let’s discuss the global impact of the disease.


Global Impact of Syphilis

Syphilis is a global health concern, with millions of new cases reported each year. Syphilis mainly spreads through sexual contact. But it can also pass from a mother to her child during pregnancy or childbirth. In the upcoming section, let’s know how Syphilis has impacted the world on a global scale.

Syphilis, A Global Health Concern

In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported discovering approximately 6.3 million new cases of Syphilis. Syphilis affects people of all → ages, genders, and sexual orientations. If they don’t get treatment, it might cause serious health problems.

The Highest Rates of Infection

Syphilis is a disease that impacts people worldwide. Though it tends to be more prevalent in low and middle-income countries. These countries may have less access to healthcare services and resources to prevent and treat the disease, which is why this happens. In addition, factors such as → poverty, poor education, & inadequate health infrastructure can contribute to the spread of this disease.

Final Words

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. Which is caused by the bacterium Treponema. If you leave it untreated, serious health consequences can occur, such as damaging the heart, brain, and other organs. This disease can also lead to complications during pregnancy and can be passed from mother to child during childbirth.

Prevention of the disease involves practicing safe sex, using condoms, and getting tested regularly if you are sexually active. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for managing this disease. Treatment typically involves antibiotics, which are effective in curing the infection if caught early. If you think you might have caught Syphilis or come into contact with it, it’s important to seek medical attention. Raising awareness about this disease and its prevention is important for reducing the spread of this disease and protecting the health of individuals and communities.

Further Reading

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  1. CDC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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