Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) which is curable but can be serious if not treated.
In the United States, about 36,000 cases of syphilis are reported each year, and the actual number is presumed to be higher. About three-fifths of the reported cases occur in men.
If not treated, syphilis can cause serious effects such as damage to the nervous system, heart, or brain. Untreated syphilis can be fatal.
If you think you might have syphilis, or if you find out that a sex partner had or might have had syphilis, see a doctor as soon as possible.
Health care professionals suggest that safer sex practices such as the use of condoms should always be used in sexual activities, but they should by no means be considered an absolute safeguard. The best suggestion is to avoid sexual activities with anyone known to have a sexually transmissable disease, and indeed anyone whose disease-negative status you aren't certain of.
The origins of syphilis are not known, though it does not appear to have been known in Europe in Classical times. There is (or was) at least one school of thought that syphilis was brought back to Europe from the New World by the early explorers.
A number of famous historical personages have been alleged to have had syphilis. Al Capone contracted syphilis as a young man. By the time he was incarcerated at Alcatraz, it reached its third stage, neurosyphilis, making him confused and disoriented.
- "Syphilis fact sheet" from the Center for Disease Control