Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by a bacterium, Treponema pallidum. Syphilis has many alternate names, such as Miss Siff or the Pox.

Congenital Syphilis has increased in Maricopa County. Learn more about it and see current local rates at

Syphilis Bacteria


The primary stage is characterized by a painless sore called a chancre appearing 10 to 90 days average 21 days after exposure.
The chancre appears at the point of exposure to the infected person either on the genital area, the rectum or the mouth. Swollen lymph nodes also may be present.

The second stage, appears 17 days to six months after inoculation or 0 - 10 weeks after the disappearance of the chancre. A skin rash over any area of the body but especially on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet characterize this stage. Lesions sometimes appear. These lesions are highly contagious. You may also have flu-like symptoms--headache and aching in the bones and joints also may be present.

During the intermediate stage known as latent syphilis, no symptoms are present. The only way syphilis is diagnosed in this stage is through a blood test.

The last, or tertiary stage, is characterized by widespread, often serious, infection. By this time, bacteria have spread throughout the entire body and may affect any of the internal organs including bones, heart, and brain.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing syphilis largely depends on how far the disease has progressed. Unless symptoms are present, a blood test is necessary. Penicillin or an equivalent medication is used to treat syphilis. Treatment dosages are increased for syphilis that has progressed to a later stage.

Potential Complications

Syphilis can be completely cured if the diagnosis is made early and the infection is treated appropriately. If left untreated, however, syphilis can lead to death. If a woman contracts the disease while pregnant, she can transmit it to her unborn child, causing deformities or death of the child.

For more information on Syphilis, contact Maricopa County Public Health Division of STDs at 602-506-1678 or visit the Centers for Disease Control website.
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