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Syphilis is a chronic infectious disease.

How You Get It

The disease is transmitted by having sex with an infected partner. It is easier to get syphilis if a condom is not used.

How It Is Transmitted

Syphilis is transmitted by passing germs (bacteria) from one person to another when having sex. Other potential routes of transmission include contaminated blood (shared needles) and mother to baby transmission.

What It Looks Like - What The Symptoms Are

Patients with untreated syphilis are classified in a series of stages. The primary stage begins immediately after exposure. The first symptom usually occurs 1 to 12 weeks after infection and is defined by the presence of a chancre. The sore usually develops at the site of initial lesion contact. This could be on the external genitals but may develop inside the vagina, rectum, mouth, or throat and may go unnoticed. The sore will go away on its own but the disease process continues. Secondary syphilis usually occurs 4 to 10 weeks after the chancre appears. At this time a number of obvious clinical signs become apparent. A skin rash develops and may cover a few areas or the entire body. Flu-like symptoms also frequently occur at or about the same time. Again, these symptoms will disappear but the disease remains. Many people now move to a latent period where no symptoms are apparent. This is followed by tertiary syphilis which can end in death.

How You Get Tested For It

A healthcare provider will take a sample of skin or fluid from the genital area to determine if there is early stage (primary or secondary) disease. To test for disease further along, a blood test will be required. It usually takes a few days for the results to return.


Syphilis is treatable and curable, most easily in the early stages by penicillin shots.

If Left Untreated

Untreated syphilis can lead to blindness, heart disease, brain damage, and death.


The regular use of condoms reduces the transmission of syphilis.


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