Syphilis – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Syphilis is a bacterial infection. It is also called ‘the pox’. It is usually acquired through sexual contact with another infected person. Syphilis can be spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex through contact with an open sore or contact with a skin rash. The bacteria can enter the body through the penis, anus, vagina, mouth, or through broken skin.


The syphilis bacterium can infect the baby of a woman during her pregnancy. Depending on how long a pregnant woman has been infected, she may have a high risk of having a stillbirth (a baby born dead) or of giving birth to a baby who dies shortly after birth. Treponema pallidum is extremely sensitive to light, air and changes in temperature. Because of this, the disease is difficult to transmit except by intimate contact. You can’t contract syphilis from using the same toilet, bathtub, clothing or tableware as an infected person.


In men, the first sign of syphilis may be a sore on the penis. In women, the first sign may be a sore around or inside the vagina. You might not even notice the sore, because syphilis sores don’t hurt. The sores go away after 3 to 6 weeks.

Primary or early symptoms: The first symptom of syphilis infection is usually a small painless sore in the area of sexual contact. The sore usually appears about 2-6 weeks after exposure and disappears within a few weeks.

Secondary symptoms: Shortly after the sore heals, a rash all over the body, swollen lymph nodes, fever, or tiredness may be noticed. These symptoms also disappear within a few weeks. Even though the initial symptoms of syphilis clear up on their own, the syphilis bacterium will remain in the body if not treated.

Latent symptoms: During the latent stage of syphilis, there are no symptoms, but the bacterium is still in the body.


Treatment is simple during the primary and secondary stages, and involves either a single antibiotic injection or two-week course of antibiotic tablets. If your child is sexually active and tells you that he or she has symptoms of any type of STD or knows that he or she had sexual contact with someone who has syphilis, it’s important to help your child get treatment as soon as possible.

Condoms lubricated with spermicides (especially Nonoxynol-9 or N-9) are no more effective than other lubricated condoms in protecting against the transmission of STDs. Based on findings from several research studies, N-9 may itself cause genital lesions, providing a point of entry for HIV and other STDs.