Our expert says:
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidium. The infection is usually sexually transmitted, in which case it is called venereal syphilis. It may also be passed from an infected mother to her unborn child, in which case it is known as congenital syphilis.
The symptoms of syphilis are the same in men and women. They can be mild and difficult to recognise or distinguish from other STDs. Symptoms may take up to 3 months to appear after initial infection. Syphilis is a slowly progressing disease that has several stages. The primary and secondary stages of syphilis are very infectious.
One or more painless ulcers (know as chancres) appear at the place where the syphilis bacteria entered the body. On average, this will be 21 days after sexual contact with an infected person. Chancres may be difficult to notice and are highly infectious. The usual locations for chancres are:
On the penis in men.
Around the anus and mouth (both sexes).
Without treatment, the ulcers take between 2 and 6 weeks to heal.
If the infection is not treated at this point then it will progress to the secondary stage.
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