What is syphilis?

What is syphilis?

Table of Contents

What is syphilis? 

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection. Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is caused by bacterium treponema pallidum.

Syphilis is most commonly passed from person to person via sexual contact, however it may also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy and child-birth.

Syphilis is described through four stages: 

  1. Primary
  2. Secondary
  3. Latent 
  4. Tertiary 

Untreated syphilis may lead to serious health complications that affect the the brain, eyes, heart, nerves, bones, joints, and liver.

According to Mayo Clinic, syphilis can lead to: 

  • The development of small bumps or tumors known as gummas
  • Neurological problems such as headache, stroke, meningitis, dementia, blindness, dementia, lowered physiological sensations, sexual dysfunction and bladder incontinence
  • Cardiovascular problems such as bulging (aneurysm) and inflammation of the aorta
  • A 2-5 fold increased risk of contracting HIV 
  • Congenital syphilis - the passing of syphilis from mother to child  

How do you get syphilis?

You can get syphilis from: 

  • Oral sex
  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • From mother to child 
  • Intimate skin-to-skin contact with an active syphilis sore (also known as a chancre)


What does syphilis look like in a woman?

Chancres are usually firm, round and reddish. Often, they can look like a pimple. 

In the secondary stages, women may experience a reddish brown rash, often starting on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. 

The symptoms of syphilis in men and women are often the same, however in women, the the painless sore (chancre) that may experienced in the first stage of syphilis will appear on the vulva. Both men and women may experience a chancre on the anus. 

Oftentimes, syphilis can go under the radar due to the fact that the symptoms can be so subtle in nature. 

For this reason, it is so important to get tested if you suspect that you have a sexually transmitted infections. 


What does syphilis look like in a man?

As mentioned above, chancres are usually firm, round and reddish. They may have a similar appearance to a pimple. 

The only difference between men and women’s signs of syphilis is that men may experience the chancre on the tip of the penis. Men may also experience a chancre on the anus. 

In the secondary stages, men may also experience a reddish brown rash, often starting on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. 

Read: How does a syphilis test work?


Can you get syphilis without being sexually active?

You can get syphilis without being sexually active. 

You can get syphilis from being in close contact with an infected person’s mouth, genitals or rectum.  

Can you get syphilis from kissing?

It is rare to get syphilis from kissing, however, it is possible. 

Close contact with an active chancre may lead to the transmission of syphilis from one person to another. 

How long can a person have syphilis without knowing?

Theoretically, it is possible to have syphilis for up to 20 years without knowing. 

How long does syphilis take to cure? 

It depends on the stage of syphilis you are experiencing. 

The length of time it takes to cure syphilis, as well as the treatment plan that will be necessary will depend on whether you are experiencing primary, secondary, latent or tertiary stages of syphilis. 

The average length of treatment for syphilis will take 10-28 days

Written by Hannah Kingston on April 26, 2021





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