Syphilis is a bacterial infection and is usually spread during sexual contact, but can also be passed on through intravenous drug use and from an infected pregnant mother to her child. There are three stages in syphilis, which are: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary, and symptoms can be hard to recognise.
Primary Syphilis is the first stage and symptoms can appear between 10 days and three months, but this varies depending on the individual. The most common symptom of syphilis is the appearance of a painless sore, which usually develops on the genitals or rectum, but can also appear on the tongue or lips; these are called chancre. The chancre will usually disappear in a few weeks, and if left untreated, the infection will move onto the secondary stage.
Secondary Syphilis has a range of symptoms that are non-specific and can often be hard to recognise, ranging from, a non-itchy rash covering certain parts of your body such as your hands and feet, tiredness, headaches and swollen lymph glands. These symptoms can disappear in a matter of weeks or can come and go over the course of months.
Tertiary Syphilis will often lay dormant for long periods of time, from years to even decades after the initial stages and can have serious symptoms depending on the part of the body the infection spreads to. Tertiary Syphilis can be extremely dangerous and cause, strokes, paralysis, blindness, deafness and even heart disease.
Since the end of the Second World War, the rate of syphilis fell due to new antibiotics, but over the past decade the number of diagnosed case has increased: there were nearly 2700 new cases of syphilis in the UK during 2008.