Syphilis is an infection of the penis, vagina, anus or mouth caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. This bacterium is passed on via the mucus membranes during unprotected sex. The bacteria get into the blood and can spread to other organs.
Syphilis has a maximum of three stages. However, it is possible that an infected person does not experience any symptoms.
In the first stage (2 to 12 weeks after infection) a red sore will develop at the spot where the bacteria first entered the body. This sore may appear in the vagina or anus, and therefore remain unnoticed.
The second stage occurs from 3 to 8 weeks after the primary stage. Symptoms include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Rash over the entire body
- Patchy hair loss
- Infected eyes
- Greyish-white spots near the genitals
If untreated, syphilis may progress to the third stage after two years. Infections will begin to damage the internal organs, skin and bones, which may lead to meningitis and paralysis.
It is very important that syphilis is treated as quickly as possible. If you suspect you have syphilis it is essential that you either test yourself or get tested. Make sure to also notify your (former) sex partner(s). In general, syphilis can be treated effectively with antibiotics.