Disease pathophysiology: Syphilis is a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. The primary route of transmission is through sexual contact; it may also be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy or at birth, resulting in congenital syphilis. Other human diseases caused by related Treponema pallidum include yaws (subspecies pertenue), pinta (subspecies carateum) and bejel (subspecies endemicum).
Statistics: Over the past five years, a series of syphilis outbreaks mainly occurring among gay men have been observed in Europe. One of these outbreaks was reported in the city of Antwerp, Belgium, during the first quarter of 2001. This outbreak is still ongoing in 2004. Furthermore, active syphilis diagnosesreported by the Sentinel Laboratory Network rose by 89% in the country during the fourth quarter of 2003. Treatment: The first choice for the treatment for syphilis is intramuscular benzathine penicillin G Doxycycline and tetracycline in alternative choice to those who are allergic to pencillins Resistance to macrolides, rifampin, and clindamycin is often present.
Ceftriaxone, a third-generation cephalosporin antibiotic, may be as effective as penicillin-based treatment. It is recommended that a treated person avoid sex until the sores are healed. Research: Developing better ways to diagnose and treat syphilis is an important research goal of scientists supported by NIAID.Scientists are developing new tests that may provide better ways to diagnose syphilis and define the stage of infection. Efforts to develop a diagnostic test that would not require a blood sample are a high priority.