n. a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, resulting in the formation of lesions throughout the body. Bacteria usually enter the body during sexual intercourse, through the mucous membranes of the vagina or urethra, but they may rarely be transmitted through wounds in the skin or scratches. Bacteria may also pass from an infected pregnant woman across the placenta to the developing fetus, resulting in the disease being present at birth (congenital syphilis).
The primary symptom – a hard painless ulcer (chancre) at the site of infection – forms 2–4 weeks after exposure. Neighbouring lymph nodes enlarge about two weeks later. Secondary stage symptoms appear about two months after infection and include fever, malaise, general enlargement of lymph nodes, and a faint red rash on the chest that persists for 1–2 weeks. After months, or even years, the disease enters its tertiary stage with widespread formation of tumour-like masses (gummas). Tertiary syphilis may cause serious damage to the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular syphilis) or to the brain and spinal cord (neurosyphilis), resulting in tabes dorsalis, blindness, and general paralysis of the insane.
Treatment is with antibiotics, such as penicillin and doxycycline. Syphilis can be diagnosed by several blood tests. Compare bejel. —syphiliticadj.
Subjects: Medicine and Health.