Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the spirochete bacterium, the Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum.


The primary route of transmission occurs through sexual contact. However the infection may also be transmitted from mother to foetus during pregnancy, or at birth, and may result in congenital syphilis.


Syphilis infection has decreased dramatically in the 1940th with the application of penicillin, and has resurfaced since the turn of the millennium, in particularly in the developing countries in combination with HIV/AIDS. In 1999 an estimated 12 million people were infected with Syphilis. An increase of new Syphilis infections has been reported in Australia in recent years. Affirmotive Sex Addiction Australia recommends safe sex practise, and the use of condoms to avoid new infections.


Syphilis may present itself in 4 different stages

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Latent
  • Tertiary

Primary syphilis is typically acquired by direct sexual contact with the partner’s infected area. About 3 -90 days after exposure, with an average time of 21 days, a skin lesion, called chancre, may appear at the point of contact. The most common location in women is the cervix, in men the penis, or the outside/inside of the anus or rectum, but can occur at other contact points of the body. 7-10 days after the chancre development, the lymph node near the chancre area may painfully enlarge. The chancre may persist 3-6 weeks, if left untreated. Chancres may not be prominent and can be easily overlooked or mistaken.

Secondary syphilis occurs usually 4-10 weeks after the primary infection and can manifest in different ways. Symptoms usually resolve after 3-6 weeks, but may be recurrent in about 25% of infected people.

Common symptoms may include

  • Reddish and non-itchy rashes may appear on the trunk and extremities of the body, the palm of the hands, and the soles.
  • The rash may form pustular or whitish wart-like lesions, harbouring bacteria and infections.
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Malaise
  • Weight loss
  • Hair Loss
  • Headaches

Rare symptoms may include

  • Hepatitis
  • Kidney disease
  • Arthritis
  • Optic neuritis
  • Uveitis
  • Interstitial keratitis

Latent syphilis refers to having serologic proof of infection without any symptoms present.

Tertiary syphilis may occur after 2-15 years following the initial infection. People with tertiary disease are non-infectious. Tertiary syphilis may be divided into three different forms.

  • Gummatous syphilis
  • Neurosyphilis
  • Cardiovascular syphilis

Gummatous or benign syphilis usually occurs after 46 years of initial infection, with an average of 15 years. The symptoms include the formation of gummas, large soft tumour-like balls of inflammation on the skin, bones, liver, and anywhere else in the body.

Neurosyphilis involves the central nervous system. Symptoms can vary and may include; meningitis, general paresis, poor balance, lightning pain in lower extremities, apathy, seizure, Dementia.

Cardiovascular syphilis may occur 10-30 years after initial infection and may be symptomatic for complications of syphilitic aortitis, which may result in aneurysm formation.


Your doctor will suggest appropriate tests

  • Blood tests
  • Direct testing

Syphilis is a notifiable disease. Your doctor will take a confidential medical and sexual history and discuss treatment options with you. In most cases, a single dose of intramuscular injected penicillin G, or a single oral dose of a specific antibiotic will be administered.


As of 2010, no vaccine is available to be efficient for prevention. The best prevention is the correct use of condoms and dams, and/or sexual abstinence from an infectious person. Your doctor may also suggest repeating tests, if necessary.


Sex Addiction Australia offers information and sexual health counselling. Please make a confidential appointment with Heide during AEST office hours (+61) 02 9380 4486 or email