How is syphilis transmitted?

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Syphilis is mainly transmitted through sexual contact, but can also be transmitted congenitally or through blood transfusions. The four stages of syphilis infection determine the likelihood of transmission, with the first and second stages being the most infectious. Pregnant mothers with syphilis can transmit the infection to their unborn babies via the placenta. Blood transfusions from infected donors are rare but can occur, and donated blood is usually tested for syphilis before being transfused.

The transmission of syphilis occurs mainly through sexual contact. The bacterium that causes syphilis, Treponema pallidum, is often present in mouth sores or on the genitals during some stages of the disease. This bacterium can be transmitted, thus transmitting the syphilis infection, to others through direct contact with small breaks in the skin or through mucous membranes. Although less common, syphilis can also be transmitted congenitally or through blood transfusions. Rather than being caused by direct contact with sores as in sexual transmission, these types of transmission occur through contact with blood that has been infected with the Treponema pallidum bacterium.

There are four main stages of syphilis infection. Sexual transmission of syphilis occurs mainly in the first and second stages, when an infected person often has a sore or lesion on his genitals or in his mouth. These sores and lesions often contain high amounts of the Treponema pallidum bacteria, which can be transmitted to someone whose broken or irritated skin or mucous membranes, such as those found in the mouth and genitals, they come into contact with. The latter stages of the disease, known as latent and tertiary syphilis, are less likely to be associated with sexual transmission, as infectious sores and lesions are less common.

Although most of the transmission of syphilis is sexual, it can sometimes occur congenitally or before birth. This form of syphilis transmission occurs when a pregnant mother has the bacterium Treponema pallidum in her blood, a condition that can be present during all stages of syphilis infection. While a pregnant mother and her unborn baby do not share the same blood, their circulatory systems are linked via the placenta, the organ that supplies the baby with the oxygen and nutrients it needs. In addition to being permeable to nutrients and oxygen, the placenta is also permeable to the bacteria Treponema pallidum, so it can pass from the mother’s bloodstream to that of the developing baby.

Syphilis can also be transmitted by blood when a person receives a blood transfusion from an infected donor. As with congenital transmission of syphilis, this can occur at any stage of the infection. In many developed countries, this is relatively rare, as donated blood is usually tested for syphilis before being transfused into another person. However, because there is some risk, people who are at high risk or are being treated for syphilis are generally advised not to donate blood until they have had a blood test confirming the absence of infection.

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