Treponema pallidum

Syphilis is a disease which is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum

Syphilis is a disease which is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.  Syphilis is very contagious and is mainly spread sexually. It is generally known as a sexually transmitted disease.  The bacterium, Treponema pallidum is from the spirochete bacteria family.  It has a complex life cycle and relies heavily on its human host to survive.  Treponema pallidum cannot survive for long periods outside the body.

Syphilis carries a stigma and many people are too ashamed to seek help if they think they may have the infection. These people may feel that society looks down upon those who have syphilis.  Currently, most cases of syphilis are found in developing countries.  Its prevalence has decreased in first world countries since the discovery of penicillin.  The reason it is more common in developing countries is because of multiple reasons.  Developing countries might not have easy access to antibiotics and people in developing countries are often not as informed about sexually transmitted diseases as people in first world countries.  Another reason could also be because more people in developing countries tend to indulge in unsafe sexual practices.  These include having multiple sexual partners at once, being promiscuous and also having a decreased interest in condom use.

People who are HIV positive are more prone to acquire syphilis. Having syphilis also increases the risk of contracting HIV.  The prevalence of syphilis amongst homosexual men is also higher than in heterosexual men.  The rate of syphilis is higher amongst intravenous drug users, possibly because of sharing needles with an infected individual as well as an increase in risky sexual behaviour amongst drug users.

Studies have shown that there are about 35 000 to 55 400 people in the United States that are newly infected with syphilis each year. The number of newly infected individuals is increasing even in first world countries.  Syphilis was a very common infection in history and many famous historical figures were suspected of possibly having syphilis.  Amongst those famous people suspected of having syphilis which developed into tertiary syphilis are Shakespeare, Beethoven and Adolf Hitler.