Syphilis is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection that can lead to serious complications if not adequately treated. Dr. Alvarado, what can you tell us about syphilis?
Well, Dr. Mayzik, in recent years, the rate of new syphilis cases has been increasing, especially among men who have sex with men, or MSM. Additionally, syphilis in this population has been closely linked with HIV. In the United States, approximately half of MSM with the first stages of syphilis also have HIV. It's estimated that having syphilis increases a person's risk of acquiring HIV by two to five times.
A syphilis infection spreads when a sore caused by the disease, called a chancre, comes into direct contact with a cut or tear on the skin or with a mucous membrane. A mucous membrane is the tissue that lines internal organs and body cavities not covered by skin, such as the urethra, vagina, cervix, anus, and rectum. Chancres can occur on or around the penis, scrotum, or vulva, in the vagina, around the anus, in the rectum, or in or around the mouth, making it possible to transmit syphilis during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
It's also possible for pregnant women with syphilis to pass the infection to their unborn child. This is called congenital syphilis.