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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema Pallidum. It has often been called "the great imitator" because so many of the signs and symptoms are indistinguishable from those of other diseases.

The sexual behaviors that spread syphilis also spread other STIs, like HIV.

  • Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages.
  • Signs and symptoms of syphilis include a firm, round, small and painless sore on the genitals, anus, or mouth, or a rash on the body, especially on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
  • In 2008, 63% of the reported primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis cases were among men who have sex with men (MSM).
  • During 2004–2008, rates of P&S syphilis increased the most among 15–24 year-old men and women.

For more information on Syphilis, visit:  Syphilis - CDC Fact Sheet

How does Syphilis affect a pregnant woman and her baby?
Pregnant women with the disease can pass it to the babies they are carrying. The syphilis bacterium can infect the baby of a woman during her pregnancy. Depending on how long a pregnant woman has been infected, she may have a high risk of having a stillbirth (a baby born dead) or of giving birth to a baby who dies shortly after birth. An infected baby may be born without signs or symptoms of disease. However, if not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks. Untreated babies may become developmentally delayed, have seizures, or die. Because untreated syphilis in a pregnant woman can infect and possibly kill her developing baby, every pregnant woman should have a blood test for syphilis.

For more information, visit:  STDs & Pregnancy - CDC Fact Sheet

Why should Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) be concerned about Syphilis?
Syphilis among men who have sex with men (MSM) continues to rise and men comprise nearly 90% of cases annually. This is particularly burdensome because approximately 40% of the MSM diagnosed with early syphilis in 2010 were living with HIV. Though early syphilis is found predominately among males, there is ongoing concern of congenital infections in women, which can lead to infant death.

For more information on Syphilis and men who have sex with men, visit: Syphilis & MSM (Men Who Have Sex with Men) - CDC Fact Sheet


The process of allocating resources to a specific game plan

Working together with the affected health jurisdiction and relevant stakeholders, a plan will be developed based on one or more hypotheses and resources committed to the plan. In the past, this has been completed in a meeting with the Health Director and key staff after all evaluation findings have been considered and hypotheses generated. Follow-up meetings/training with frontline staff and/or key collaborators (i.e., community groups) generally occurs when needed as the plan is carried out. The challenge then is to create a plan based on sound hypotheses as to why the outbreak is occurring. The hypotheses and resulting plan will be developed as follows:

  • Develop hypotheses as to cause(s)
  • Develop and execute plan
  • Evaluate outbreak intervention(s)

The Virginia Epidemiology Response Team (VERT) was created to work with local health departments in the event of a disease outbreak.  Frequently, they are deployed as part of the outbreak response.  They were deployed 11 times in 2009.  VERT consists of Disease Intervention Specialists who try to find new cases and interrupt the disease transmission process as fast as possible.  This is best done by partner notification.  They also work with local health departments to inform the community and set up case detection systems.

Syphilis data can be found here.

Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS)

Who should you call for more information?

For more information about syphilis, please contact:

If you have any other questions on HIV/AIDS or any sexually transmitted disease, please call the Virginia HIV, STD, and Viral Hepatitis Hotline: (800) 533 - 4148.

Last Updated: 10-03-2013

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