is a complex sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused
by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It has often been
called "the great imitator" because so many
of the signs and symptoms are indistinguishable from those
of other diseases. The number of syphilis cases in Wisconsin
have been decreasing, yet syphilis prevention remains
an important objective because of the serious consequences
of untreated or inadequately treated syphilis and its
role as a potential risk factor for HIV infection and
transmission. Wisconsin is currently involved in the National
Plan to Eliminate Syphilis.
Who gets syphilis?
is syphilis spread?
is passed from person to person through direct contact
with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the penis,
vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores also can occur on
the lips and in the mouth. Transmission occurs during
vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The bacteria pass through
intact mucous membranes and abraded skin; they are then
carried by the blood stream to every organ in the body.
Pregnant women with the disease can pass it to the babies
they are carrying. Syphilis cannot be spread
by toilet seats, door knobs, swimming pools, hot tubs,
bath tubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.
are the signs and symptoms in adults?
course of syphilis is divided into three stages, each
with different signs and symptoms.
Primary Syphilis - Primary syphilis is the most
infectious stage of the disease. The time between infection
with syphilis and the start of the first symptom can range
from 10-90 days (average 21 days). The primary stage of
syphilis is usually marked by the appearance of a single
sore or lesion (called a chancre), but there may be multiple
sores. The chancre is usually firm, round, small, and
painless. It appears at the spot where syphilis entered
the body. The chancre lasts 3-6 weeks, and it will heal
on its own. If adequate treatment is not administered,
the infection progresses to the secondary stage.
Syphilis - The second stage symptoms vary greatly
in appearance and may or may not be noticeable. One of
the most common symptoms is the development of a body
rash. The rash usually does not itch. Rashes can appear
as the chancre is fading or can be delayed for weeks.
The rash often appears as rough, red or reddish brown
spots both on the palms of the hands and on the bottoms
of the feet. The rash also may also appear on other parts
of the body with different characteristics, some of which
resemble other diseases. Sometimes the rashes are so faint
that they are not noticed. Even without treatment, rashes
clear up on their own. In addition to rashes, second-stage
symptoms can include fever, white mucous patches in the
mouth or genital area, swollen lymph glands, sore throat,
patchy hair loss, nickel or dime size lesions (often on
face), headaches, weight loss, wet wart-like growths in
the genital area, muscle aches, and tiredness. A person
can easily pass the disease to sex partners when primary
or secondary stage signs or symptoms are present.
Syphilis - The latent (hidden) stage of syphilis begins
when the secondary symptoms disappear. Without treatment,
the infected person still has syphilis even though there
are no signs or symptoms. It remains in the body, and
it may begin to damage the internal organs, including
the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver,
bones, and joints. This internal damage may show up many
years later in the late or tertiary stage of syphilis.
Late stage signs and symptoms include not being able to
coordinate muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual
blindness and dementia. This damage may be serious enough
to cause death. All cases of syphilis are latent at some
time during the course of an untreated infection.
a newborn get syphilis?
on how long a pregnant woman has been infected, she has
a good chance of having a stillbirth (syphilitic stillbirth)
or of giving birth to a baby who dies shortly after birth.
If not treated immediately, an infected baby may be born
without symptoms but could develop them within a few weeks.
These signs and symptoms can be very serious. Untreated
babies may become developmentally delayed, have seizures,
is syphilis diagnosed?
health care provider can diagnose syphilis by using dark
field microscopy to examine material from infectious sores.
If syphilis bacteria are present in the sore, they will
show up with a characteristic appearance.
blood test is another way to determine whether someone
has syphilis. Shortly after infection occurs, the body
produces syphilis antibodies that can be detected by an
accurate, safe and inexpensive blood test. A low level
of antibodies will stay in the blood for months or years
even after the disease has been successfully treated.
Because untreated syphilis in a pregnant woman can infect
and possibly kill her developing baby, every pregnant
woman should have a blood test for syphilis.
there a cure for syphilis? What is the treatment?
A single dose of a prescription will cure a person who
has had syphilis for less than a year. Larger doses are
needed to cure someone who has had it for longer than
a year. There are no home remedies or over-the-counter
drugs that will cure syphilis. Syphilis can be cured at
any stage of infection. The prescription treatment will
kill the syphilis bacterium and prevent further damage,
but it will not repair any damage already done. Persons
who receive syphilis treatment must abstain from sexual
contact with new partners until the syphilis sores are
completely healed. Persons with syphilis must notify their
sex partners so that they also can be tested, and, if
necessary, receive treatment.
would happen if a person with syphilis did not get treatment?
untreated syphilis, signs and symptoms range from inapparent
to symptoms that indicate severe damage to one or more
organ systems in the body including the brain and nervous
system; heart and circulatory system; and destructive
lesions (gummas) in the skin, bones, brain, or internal
organs. Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can lead to
miscarriage, stillbirth, and single or multiple organ
system manifestations of illness that appear as the child
grows. Syphilis can be cured at any stage of infection,
but damage that has already occurred cannot be repaired.
had syphilis does not protect a person from getting it
again. Reinfection with Treponema pallidum, the bacteria
that causes syphilis, can occur any time a person is re-exposed.
What is the link between syphilis and HIV?
the health problems caused by syphilis in adults and newborns
are serious in their own right, it is now known that the
genital sores or lesions caused by syphilis in adults
also make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV
infection sexually. There is a 2- to 5-fold increased
risk of acquiring HIV infection
when syphilis is present.
can people protect themselves against infection?
people who know that they are not infected and who have
sex only with each other cannot contract syphilis. When
someone's syphilis status is unknown, a good defense against
becoming infected during sex is to use a latex condom
before beginning sex and to keep it on until the penis
is withdrawn. However, condoms do not provide complete
protection because syphilis sores can sometimes be on
areas not covered by a condom. This is equally important
for other STDs, including HIV,
as well. Only lab tests can confirm whether someone has
syphilis. Because syphilis sores can be hidden in the
vagina, rectum, or mouth, it may not be obvious that a
sex partner has syphilis. Washing the genitals, urinating,
or douching after sex does not prevent STDs,
including syphilis. Any unusual discharge, sore, or rash,
especially in the groin area, should be a signal to stop
having sex and to see a doctor at once.
CDC -DIVISION OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES PREVENTION
Wisconsin Division of Public Health - Bureau of Communicable
Diseases -Sexually Transmitted Disease Control Section
you don't find the information you are looking for on this
Wisconsin HIV, STD, and Hepatitis C Information & Referral
hotline can provide information about STDs.
Please call us toll free in Wisconsin
Or call CDC INFO at