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
- Health Advisory: Increase in Syphilis Cases among Heterosexuals living Homeless and Identification of Congenital Syphilis in King County and Washington State - January 25, 2021 (PDF)
- Syphilis Incidence Rates (PDF)
- Syphilis Reporting Guidelines (PDF)
- Sexually Transmitted Disease Reporting Forms
- Sexually Transmitted Disease Site