Public Health Fact Sheet

What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.  It can cause serious health problems if left untreated.  Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary).  There are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage.

How is Syphilis spread?
You can get Syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.  You can find sores on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth.  Syphilis can spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby. 

How is Syphilis treated?
In the early stages of Syphilis, a single injection of penicillin is the treatment of choice. More injections may be needed for someone with the disease longer than a year. Treatment will prevent further damage, but won’t repair damage that has already occurred.  People who receive Syphilis treatment must abstain from sex until the Syphilis sores are completely healed.  People with Syphilis must notify their sex partners so that they also can be tested and receive treatment, if necessary.

How can Syphilis be prevented?
Abstinence from sex is the best form of protection. Using latex male condoms will offer some protection.  Being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and known to be uninfected is another form of prevention.

Additional information is available on the CDC website at
Symptoms of Syphilis

  • Primary stage - development of a chancre sore
  • Secondary stage - skin rash, fever, swollen glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headache, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue
  • Late stage - difficulty with coordination, paralysis, numbness, blindness, and dementia

February 2020