Syphilis (Treponema pallidum)

SyphilisSyphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It is also known as "the great imitator". Having unprotected sex can increase your risk of getting an STI. If left untreated, it can result in serious illness or, in rare cases, death.

Image Content Provider: CDC/ Dr. David Cox


Syphilis is known as the “great imitator” because of the wide range of symptoms that infected individuals may develop. These symptoms can be confused with other conditions or diseases that can be overlooked by a health professional.

The first symptom consists of a painless open sore called a chancre or ulcer. This usually appears 3 days to 3 months after having sex with someone infected with syphilis. The chancre appears on the site that the bacteria entered the body. This is mainly the genitals, vagina rectum, lips or mouth. A body rash and flu-like symptoms may follow after the initial symptoms. Some people infected with syphilis may not develop these symptoms for years.


Syphilis can be transmitted through direct contact with syphilis sores. It is a sexually transmitted infection that is passed along through anal, vaginal or oral sex. Pregnant women can pass on the infection to their unborn baby during pregnancy or childbirth. This may lead to birth defects or stillbirth.


Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics, usually penicillin. Those infected with syphilis should inform their sexual partner(s) about their diagnosis. They also need to be tested and treated.

It is important to receive treatment as soon as possible. Treatment can only kill the bacteria that cause the infection. It cannot repair the damage done.


Syphilis can be prevented by consistently avoiding risky behaviours. Thus, avoid having multiple sexual partners and unprotected sex. Informing your sexual partner(s) so they can be tested and, if needed, receive treatment will help reduce the spread of the disease.

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