Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection (STI) that initially causes genital ulcers (sores). If untreated, these ulcers can then lead to more serious symptoms of infection.
An ancient disease, syphilis is still of major importance today. Although syphilis rates in the United States declined by almost 90 percent from 1990 to 2000, the number of cases rose from 5,979 in 2000 to 7,980 in 2004. In a single year, from 2003 to 2004, the number of syphilis cases jumped 8 percent.
There also was a dramatic change in whom the disease affects. Between 2002 and 2003, the number of cases in men increased 13.5 percent, reflecting an increase in syphilis in men who have sex with men. During the same time the number of cases in women declined by 27.3 percent.
Syphilis also disproportionately affects African Americans, who represent 41 percent of all cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
HIV infection and syphilis are linked. Syphilis increases the risk of transmitting as well as getting infected with HIV.