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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) that, when left untreated, can progress to a late stage that causes serious health problems. The infection alternates with periods of being active and inactive (latent). When the infection is active, symptoms occur; however, when the infection is latent, no symptoms appear even though you still have syphilis.

Anyone who comes into close physical contact with a person who has syphilis can develop syphilis. You don't have to have sexual intercourse to get syphilis--exposure can result from close contact with an infected person's genitals, mouth, or rectum.

Syphilis is caused by a type of bacterium (Treponema pallidum) that usually enters the body through the mucous membranes. An infected person can pass the disease to others (is contagious) whenever a sore or a rash is present.

Symptoms of syphilis may not be noticed or may mimic those of many other diseases. This may cause an infected person to delay seeking medical care and can make diagnosis difficult.

The four stages of syphilis have different symptoms.

Ð'* Primary stage: During this stage of syphilis, a painless open sore called a chancre (pronounced "shanker") develops. Because syphilis is usually passed from person to person through sexual activities, chancres are often found in the genital area, anus, or mouth, but they may also be found wherever the bacteria entered the body.

Ð'* Secondary stage: A skin rash and other symptoms occur during the secondary stage, which begins 4 to 10 weeks after the initial infection. Secondary syphilis is highly contagious through direct contact with the mucous membranes or other surfaces affected by the skin rash.

Ð'* Latent stage: This stage is often called the hidden stage of syphilis because usually no symptoms are present. The latent stage is defined as the year after a person becomes infected. A person in early latent stage may be contagious. Many times, latent-stage syphilis is detected in a mother only after she gives birth to a child infected

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