Cause: Spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum.

Illness and treatment: The disease has four stages:

  • Primary syphilis involves a painless ulcer at the site of infection.
  • Secondary syphilis involves fever, diffuse rash, headache, hair loss, and muscle aches.
  • Early latent and late/late latent syphilis, which are infections acquired in the past, can result in damage to the brain, heart, or other organs.
  • Congenital syphilis may result in organ damage and bone deformities. Antibiotics treat the infection but organ damage is permanent.

Sources: Syphilis is sexually transmitted or acquired before birth.

Additional risks: Risk for syphilis is higher among men who have sex with men.

Prevention: Use safe sexual practices to reduce transmission.

Recent Washington trends: Rates have increased since 1996, when 9 cases were reported. Recently over 150 primary and secondary cases have been reported annually. Rates are higher among males.

2010: 261 cases of primary and secondary syphilis were reported (3.9 cases/100,000 population).

View the most recent morbidity report on reported syphilis cases

Purpose of Reporting and Surveillance

  • To assess trends in epidemic patterns, understand the impact of the burden of disease on populations, the health care infrastructure, and to better target population-level disease prevention efforts
  • To assure the adequate treatment of infected individuals in order to reduce the duration of infectiousness and prevent sequelae of infection. (e.g., neurosyphilis, gumma)
  • To identify cases in a timely fashion in order to interrupt the chain of infection through patient-level interventions such as management of sexual contacts and behavioral risk reduction counseling

Legal Reporting Requirements

  • Health care providers: notifiable to local health jurisdiction within 3 business days
  • Health care facilities: notifiable to local health jurisdiction within 3 business days
  • Laboratories: notifiable to local health jurisdiction within 2 business days, specimen submission required to State Public Health Laboratory or Public Health, Seattle & King County laboratory
  • Local health jurisdictions: notify the Washington State Department of Health STD Services Section within 7 days of case investigation completion; summary information required within 21 days for all reported cases

Last update
December 2011