Syphilis: Causes, Types, Symptoms and Treatment

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection. It is the top list disease of the world.  This disease is mostly spread out through various sexual activities such as oral, anal sex and by kissing.  The outbreak of syphilis was first occurred in Italy in 1495-1495 during a French invasion. Hence, it is also known as the French Disease.

The term ‘syphilis’ was first used by the Italian physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro after the name of hero Syphilus in his pastoral noted poem which was written in Latin language in 1530. Syphilis was carried from the American to Europe by the crew of Christopher Columbus (1942). Later, it out broken to the Europe.  During world war II, the infection of this disease spread all over the world. It is the more widespread in urban area than villages.

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Causes of Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial disease and its causative agent is bacteria, Treponema pallidum. Actually, it is a sexually transmitted disease or infection and occurs through the sexual contact from infected person to non-infected person. It does occur through oral, anal sex and even by kissing. Besides, the bacteria, Treponema pallidum can enter the body of non-infected person through cut skin, mucous membrane and make infection the person.  

It does not spread by doorknobs, hot tubs, shared clothing, shared utensil for eating, etc. It does not also occur by toilet seats and by suing swimming pools during bath. 


In many cases, syphilis is passed on from infected mothers to their newly born babies. 

The painless ulcer occurs in the body when the person makes contact with infected person by syphilis. The ulcer secretes a clear liquid substance that contains many syphilis bacteria, Treponema pallidum. As a result, a people can easily be infected with syphilis infected person if he makes contact with infected person by syphilis.

Stages of Syphilis

There are four stages of syphilis which include:

  1. Primary Syphilis
  2. Secondary Syphilis
  3. Latent Syphilis and
  4. Tertiary or Late Syphilis

Primary Syphilis

It is also called first stage syphilis. Symptoms occur in this stage include:

  • It is also called first stage syphilis and it normally comes into view within 10 days to 3 months after you are exposing to syphilis. 
  • Red dome appears firstly where the bacteria initially multiply.  
  • The lymph nodes near groin are expanded.
  • A small, painless sore or chancre ((SHANG-kur).) on the skin is visible.
  • Most people are infected with only one chancre whiles other with several chancres.
  • The sore appears at the site where the bacteria, Treponema pallidum enter the body. 
  • Within 3 to 6 weeks, the sore will heal.

Secondary Syphilis

It is also known as second stage syphilis. About 2 to 10 weeks after the first sore comes into view, at this stage the infected people shows the following symptoms:

  • Rash occur that causes small, reddish-brown sores  on trunk, the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet and eventually it covers the entire body;
  • The rash is not itchy and it is also accompanied by wartlike sores in the genital area or the mouth;
  • A muscle aches;
  • Hair loss;
  • Swollen glands;
  • A fever;
  • A sore throat;
  • Swollen of lymph nodes;
  • Sores occur in the vagina, anus or mouth;
  • Weight loss;
  • Headache;
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue, etc;

These symptoms and signs may vanish within a few weeks or come back and go for up to a year if you don’t get treatment right away. In many cases, syphilis gets inferior and the body contains infection but symptoms don’t return. So you should do routine check otherwise you can still infect your sexual partner.

Latent Syphilis

Latent syphilis occurs if you do not get treatment for secondary syphilis. In this stage, there are no visible symptoms. The syphilis bacteria, Treponema pallidum are remain alive or dormant in the body and it still affects the important organs such as heart, brain, bones, nerves and other parts of the body.

This phage is divided into early and late latent syphilis based on infection. If infection happens within the past one year then it is known as early latent syphilis while infection occurs more than one year ago then it is known as late latent syphilis.  The latent syphilis can stay for years. In many cases, the latent or hidden phase can develop to the final or tertiary stage.

Tertiary or Late Syphilis

If you infected with syphilis and did not get treatment, it turns into tertiary or late syphilis. In this case, about 15-30 percent people infected with tertiary syphilis. 

It is the dangerous stage which may cause damage your heart, brain, eyes, blood vessels, nerves, liver, bones and joints. Generally, this stage occurs after many years if you do not get treatment for syphilis infection.  Tertiary or Late Syphilis can lead to death. 

Symptoms of tertiary syphilis may include:

  • Numbness;
  • Problems with controlling muscle movements;
  • Problems with vision;
  • Dementia, etc;

Complications of Tertiary stage

Gummas: The large sores or small bumps or tumors, known as gummata, occur inside the body, on the skin, bones, liver or any other organ. Gummas usually vanish if you treatment with antibiotics.

Neurosyphilis: It cause neurological problems and affects the nervous system. It can cause a number of troubles with your nervous system. These include:

  • Stroke;
  • Headache;
  • Hearing loss;
  • Visual problems, including blindness;
  • Meningitis;
  • Dementia;
  • Loss of temperature sensations and pain;
  • Sexual dysfunction in men;

Cardiovascular syphilis: It affects blood vessels and the heart. It can cause inflammation of the aorta, and damage heart valves.

Diagnosis of Syphilis

Syphilis can be diagnosed by different tests. The tests include: TPHA test(Treponemal pallidum particle agglutination test), Abs test( Flurescent treponemal antibody absorption test), VDRL test( Venereal disease research laboratory test).

Prevention of Syphilis

There is no vaccine for the treatment of syphilis. To prevent the spread of syphilis, you should follow the following suggestions:

  • Always do safe sex. In this case, you should use a condom and water based lubricant.
  • If a person has sex regularly multiple partners then it is advisable for them to get frequent STD(sexually transmitted disease) checkups.
  • You should avoid recreational drugs such as alcohol or other drugs which can slow down your judgment and lead to insecure sexual practices.
  • Remember that syphilis may be spread through oral sex.
  • Once must get a syphilis test and other STI check at least yearly and up to four times a year if the person has a number of partners.
  • The patient seeks early advice if he notices oral, genital or anal sores or rashes on his body, hands or feet related to recent sexual contact.

Treatment of Syphilis

Very effective drug for treatment of all stages of syphilis is penicillin. To avoid further complications, early treatment is needed.