Syphilis is a bacterial infection that's typically spread through sexual contact.
The first sign of syphilis is most commonly a painless sore, called a chancre, that develops where the bacteria entered the body. The chancre typically appears within three weeks from the time of exposure. It is usually in the area of the genitals, rectum, or mouth, and it can go unnoticed if it is hidden inside the body.
The infection spreads from person to person when a person touches these sores with their skin or mucous membranes.
Syphilis can be difficult to diagnose, because after the initial infection, the bacteria can lie dormant in the body for years before becoming active again. With no visible symptoms, the only way to know that you have syphilis is to be tested for it, which usually involves having a blood sample taken, according to Lab Tests Online. (1)
Syphilis can be a serious, even life-threatening illness if it goes untreated. It’s especially dangerous when passed from an infected mother to her infant during pregnancy or childbirth.
With the number of cases of syphilis, including congenital syphilis, on the rise in the United States and elsewhere in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending annual or even more frequent screening for those individuals at high risk, and numerous state and local health departments are mounting awareness campaigns. (2)
Fortunately, there are several very effective treatments available to kill the bacteria that causes syphilis, and the infection is easily curable in adults when treated early. It can be treated at later stages as well, but treatment cannot reverse any organ damage the disease may have already caused.