Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is passed through direct contact with syphilis sore. These sores occur mostly on external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. They can also be found on the lips or in the mouth. Syphilis rates are higher in the Southern states than in the rest of the country. The rate of infection is increasing in males and decreasing in females.

Syphilis can be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

There are three stages of syphilis; primary, secondary, and late.

The primary stage is the time between the infection and the appearance of the first symptom. This takes an average of 21 days (10-90 days). Usually a sore (called a chancre) appears, but there could actually be many sores. The chancre is usually firm, round, small, and painless. It appears where syphilis entered the body. This sore may persist 3-6 weeks, and it will heal on its own. If correct treatment is not administered, the infection progresses to the secondary stage.

The secondary stage begins when one or more areas of skin break into a rash that does not itch. This may appear as the chancre is fading, or it can be weeks later. It can appear as rough, red or reddish brown spots on the palms of hands or bottoms of feet. Sometimes the rash is so faint that it goes unnoticed. Even without treatment, the rash will clear up on its own. In addition to the rashes, other secondary symptoms may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. This disease can easily be passed to sexual partners when primary or secondary stage signs or symptoms are present.

The late or latent (hidden) stage of syphilis begins when the symptoms of the secondary stage disappear. Without treatment, the infected person still has syphilis, but no signs or symptoms. The infection remains in the body, and it can begin to damage internal organs brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. This internal damage may not show up until years later. Late signs and symptoms include not being able to coordinate muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. The damage may be serious enough to cause death.

Every pregnant woman should have a test for syphilis. Early syphilis left untreated during pregnancy can lead to the death of the baby in 40% of the cases. If you have syphilis and become pregnant within four years, there is a 70% chance that the baby will be infected.