Syphilis Home > Syphilis Transmission

The primary means of syphilis transmission is through direct contact with sores found on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. The syphilis bacteria (Treponema pallidum) are fragile, so the disease cannot be transmitted through contact with common sources, such as toilet seats, doorknobs, or eating utensils. Syphilis transmission can also occur between an infected pregnant woman and her unborn child.

Syphilis Transmission: An Overview

Syphilis transmission most often occurs through direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. These sores occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores can also occur on the lips and in the mouth.

Syphilis Transmission and Pregnancy

Syphilis transmission can also occur from an infected pregnant woman to her unborn child.

Other Methods of Syphilis Transmission

The syphilis bacteria (Treponema pallidum) are fragile. Therefore, syphilis transmission does not occur through contact with toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.

Syphilis Transmission and Symptoms

Although syphilis transmission appears to occur from people with sores who are in the primary or secondary stage (see Syphilis Symptoms), many of these sores are unrecognized. Thus, most syphilis transmission is from people who are unaware of their infection.
Transmission of the disease can also occur in the early latent phase of syphilis. It is less common to spread syphilis during the late latent phase (see Stages of Syphilis).
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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