Syphilis is a highly contagious disease spread primarily by sexual activity, including oral and anal sex. Occasionally, the disease can be passed to another
person through prolonged kissing or close bodily contact. Although this disease is spread from sores, the vast majority of those sores go unrecognized. The infected person is often unaware of the disease and unknowingly passes it on to his or her sexual partner.
Pregnant women with the disease can spread it to their baby. This disease, called congenital syphilis, can cause abnormalities or even death to the child.
Syphilis cannot be spread by toilet seats, door knobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bath tubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.
Syphilis infection occurs in three distinct stages:
Early or primary syphilis. People with primary syphilis will develop one or more sores. The sores are usually small painless ulcers. They occur on the genitals or in or around the mouth somewhere between 10-90 days (average three weeks) after exposure. Even without treatment they heal without a scar within six weeks.
The secondary stage may last one to three months and begins within six weeks to six months after exposure. People with secondary syphilis experience a rosy “copper penny” rash typically on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. However, rashes with a different appearance may occur on other parts of the body, sometimes resemblingrashes caused by other diseases. They may also experience moist warts in the groin, white patches on the inside of the mouth,swollen lymph glands, fever, and weight loss. Like primary syphilis, secondary syphilis will resolve without treatment.
Latent syphilis. This is where the infection lies dormant (inactive) without causing symptoms.