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Syphilis Caused by Bacteria: How Does Syphilis Spread?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Giann Floresca · Updated Dec 23, 2022

Syphilis Caused by Bacteria: How Does Syphilis Spread?

What is the cause of syphilis? Syphilis is caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. Transmission commonly occurs via direct contact with an infectious lesion on a partner during sex. Contact with infected secretions with almost any tissue can lead to a primary infection. This includes kissing or touching a person with active lesions on the lips, breasts, or genitals. In pregnant mothers, the disease can spread to the fetus via the placenta.

Once infection occurs, it takes around 10 days to 3 months to manifest into a syphilis sore, and the infection may progress from there.

Why does syphilis spread more quickly in certain areas compared to others? Factors like inheritance, economic factors, and overall sexual practices play a part.

Here is a more in-depth look at the factors that may cause the spread of syphilis:

Spread of Syphilis Caused by Bacteria

Syphilis During Pregnancy

Mothers who have syphilis during pregnancy and childbirth can pass the disease to their children. They may transmit the disease through either the placenta or highly infectious lesions in the vaginal area during vaginal childbirth. Syphilis caused by bacteria inherited from the mother is called congenital syphilis. This can cause many dangerous complications in the infants and if left untreated, even death.

Economic Factors Enabling Wider Spread of Syphilis Caused by Bacteria

Economic factors also come into play in the spread of syphilis.

For example, economic pressure may cause some women and men to turn to sex work without prior knowledge and practice of safe sex. This may cause syphilis to spread because one person with syphilis may infect not only the sex worker, but also other partners.

Inadequate insurance and limited health care may also enable the spread of syphilis. Poverty may prevent access to inclusive and premium insurance packages. This means that if you do catch syphilis, you probably won’t be able to afford the treatment even with insurance coverage. This leads to many people foregoing treatment and suffering worsening conditions.

Low-income groups, who already have a higher STD infected population also have more limited access to contraceptives and other medicines. This means that low-income people will also have a higher amount of unprotected sex, and less treatment options. This has caused mass outbreaks of STDs in low-income areas and countries.

Sexual Practices

Statistics show that male homosexual populations have a higher rate of STD transmission. Penile penetrative sex between two men increases the chance of transmission, compared to heterosexual partners wherein only the male partner commits penetration, and female homosexuals when penile penetration does not occur.

Studies have shown that lesbians have the lowest STD transmission rates, including compared to heterosexual partners. Studies have also shown that anal sex can further increase the chance of STD transmission, resulting in a higher chance of contracting syphilis caused by bacteria.

The correct usage of condoms may help lower the spread of syphilis and other STDs.

Key Takeaway

Syphilis spreads via direct sexual contact. However many other circumstances and factors are at play that ultimately lead to syphilis spreading.

Learn more about Syphilis here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Giann Floresca · Updated Dec 23, 2022

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