An infection caused by bacteria and spread through sexual intercourse or other intimate body contact, or, less commonly, from mother to fetus during pregnancy. Following sexual infection, the organism spreads rapidly via the bloodstream and lymphatic system. The first symptom is a sore (chancre) that appears on the genitals, anus, rectum, lips, throat, or fingers and heals in 4–8 weeks. A rash then develops, which may be transient, recurrent, or may last for months. Other possible symptoms include lymph node enlargement, headache, bone pain, loss of appetite, fever, and fatigue. Thickened, grey or pink patches may develop on moist areas of skin and are highly infectious. Meningitis may also develop. Following this symptomatic phase, the disease becomes latent for a few years, or sometimes indefinitely. A few untreated cases proceed, eventually, to a final stage characterized by widespread tissue destruction. This may be accompanied by cardiovascular syphilis, which affects the aorta and leads to aneurysm and heart-valve disease; neurosyphilis, with progressive brain damage and paralysis; and tabes dorsalis of the spinal cord. Signs of congenital infection include a rash, persistent snuffles, bone abnormalities, jaundice, and enlargement of the liver and spleen. Keratitis, arthritis, a characteristic flat face, peg-shaped teeth, and mental handicap may appear later in childhood. Diagnosis is by examination of chancre serum or by blood tests. All forms of syphilis are treated with antibacterial drugs. Organ damage already caused by the disease cannot be reversed. Practising safer sex can help to prevent syphilis infection. People with syphilis are infectious in the early stages but not in the latent and final stages.


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