Syphilis is a highly contagious disease spread primarily by sexual activity, including oral and anal sex. Occasionally, the disease can be passed to another person through prolonged kissing or close bodily contact. Although this disease is spread from sores, the vast majority of those sores go unrecognized. The infected person is often unaware of the disease and unknowingly passes it on to his or her sexual partner.
Pregnant women with the disease can spread it to their baby. This disease, called congenital syphilis, can cause abnormalities or even death to the child. Syphilis cannot be spread by toilet seats, door knobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bath tubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.
Syphilis is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum.How Common Is Syphilis
Syphilis was once a major public health threat, commonly causing serious long-term health problems such as arthritis, brain damage, and blindness. It defied effective treatment until the late 1940s, when the antibiotic penicillin was first developed.
According to the CDC, the rate of new cases of syphilis had plummeted in the 1990's and in the year 2000 it reached an all time low since reporting began in 1941. However, there has been a gradual rise since then with over 36,000 cases being reported in 2006.