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Syphilis is a sexually acquired infection caused by Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum, a spirochete bacterium. It is a bacterial infection with several stages: primary and secondary stages, that are very infectious and the third stage, which occurs if the infection is left untreated. The symptoms of syphilis can be difficult to recognise and can be missed. It can take up to three months for the symptoms to show after sex with an infected person.

 

How is Syphilis passed on?

It is a sexually transmitted infection which is passed on through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal intercourse or genital contact with an infected person.
Even if the carrier of syphilis is not showing any symptoms they can still pass the infection onto another person. A pregnant woman with infectious syphilis can also pass the infection onto her foetus via the placenta or during birth.

 

Symptoms

There are no specific symptoms of syphilis. Although the illness usually begins with one or more painless but highly infectious sores appearing anywhere on the body usually at the area of infection, this is known as the primary stage. The sores usually clear up on their own within six weeks.

The secondary stage symptoms usually develop 6 weeks to 6 months after the onset of the primary sores. Later symptoms are variable and may include a rash on the palms or soles.
Late syphilis occurs four or more years after an untreated primary infection. Complications may occur in the mucocutaneous tissue, heart, respiratory tract or central nervous system.

 

Treatment

Antibiotics are used to treat all stages of syphilis. It is important that all current and recent sexual partners of a person with syphilis should be tested and treated to stop re-infection and the spread of disease. Treatment is offered even if they have no signs of infection.

  

Source: HPA Syphilis Fact Sheet