Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum that results in substantial morbidity and mortality. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) usually spread through contact with infectious sores on the genitals, anus, rectum, lips or mouth, via blood transfusion, or through mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy.
Correct and consistent use of condoms significantly decreases the risk of infection. Mother-to-child transmission of syphilis (congenital syphilis) is preventable and can be achieved through early screening and treatment.
Congenital syphilis can be easily prevented by early detection, prompt and adequate treatment of infected pregnant women.
Syphilis diagnosis is usually based on medical history, physical examination, and laboratory testing. Uncomplicated syphilis can be easily cured with antibiotics, however if left untreated, the disease last for years and cause serious health problems.
- Symptoms vary depending on the different stages of syphilis. Symptoms usually begin 21 days after infection but can range from 9 to 90 days.
- Key populations are disproportionally affected, and continue to exhibit a high burden of syphilis, which ranges from 1% to 27% in the case of gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), and from 0.5% to 14% in female sex workers (2017 data).
- Mother-to-child transmission may occur if the expectant mother has syphilis. Mother-to-child transmission of syphilis (congenital syphilis) is usually devastating to the fetus in cases where maternal infection is not detected and treated sufficiently early in pregnancy.
- Approximately 40% of babies born to pregnant women with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection.
- Syphilis can in most cases be easily cured with antibiotics (penicillin). A fetus can also be easily cured with treatment, and the risk of adverse outcomes to the fetus is minimal if the mother receives adequate treatment during early pregnancy – ideally before the second trimester.
- The global response to STI is currently guided by the Global health sector strategy on sexually transmitted infections, 2016 -2021.
- The Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (2016-2021) describes the strategic lines of action to be implemented by Member States and PAHO to enhance and expand the prevention and control of HIV and STIs in the Americas.
- PAHO/WHO has expanded the plan of action to include EMTCT Plus, leveraging the maternal and child health platform to include elimination of other preventable communicable diseases in the Americas, such as hepatitis B and Chagas disease.
- PAHO/WHO develops guidelines and handbooks to support countries improving surveillance, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of STI, including PAHO’s 2015 Guidance on Syphilis Testing in Latin America and the Caribbean: Improving Uptake, Interpretation, and Quality of Testing in Different Clinical Settings.
- In 2016, WHO developed the Guidelines for the Treatment of Treponema pallidum (syphilis), and in 2017 the Guideline on syphilis screening and treatment for pregnant women, both providing updated recommendations for syphilis based on the most recent evidence.
- PAHO facilitates and foster technical cooperation among countries, key partners and civil society organizations and provides direct technical assistance to countries to support the achievement of the elimination of priority sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as a public health problem by 2030.