Synonyms in the broader sense

Lues, Lues venerea, hard chancre, French disease (maladie française), Schaudinn's disease

English: syphilis


Syphilis is caused by infection with the bacterium Treponema pallidum sexually transmitted diseases (STD), which are sexually transmitted from person to person or during pregnancy or from mother to child at birth (Lues connata) is transmitted (Please refer Syphilis in pregnancy). Syphilis is a cyclical general infection and is one of the notifiable venereal diseases in Germany.


The syphilis is common worldwide. A decline in reports of the disease was observed by the early 1990s. From 1995 to 2000 approx. 1150 cases were recorded annually, from 2001 the number of reports rose again and since 2004 the number of reports for syphilis in Germany has stabilized at 3000-3500 cases. However, these figures only include the reported cases, the actual number of the disease is estimated to be several times higher and the trend of the disease is increasing. Berlin and Hamburg record most cases in Germany.

A changed attitude towards sexuality is held responsible for the increase in the incidence of the disease ("lifestyle" pathogens). Syphilis is mainly found in people with frequently changing sexual partners.With almost 80% of men, the main route of infection is homo- and bisexual intercourse. In general, the frequency of infection is higher in men than in women, only a third of those affected are women.

The Lues connata is extremely rare. Seven cases were reported in Germany in 2004, four in 2005/2006.


The causative agent of syphilis, Treponema pallidum, was probably brought to Europe by the crew of Christopher Columbus in 1494. The infectious disease spread from Italy through returning French soldiers of King Charles VIII who, among other things, had fought against former sailors in the siege of Naples at the end of the 16th century across Europe. Hundreds of French soldiers died from a syphilis epidemic, which is why the disease is popularly known as the French disease. The name syphilis originated in 1950 and goes back to a story in Greek mythology in which the shepherd Syphilus leads a very vicious life and is therefore punished with the disease. The medical name of the disease is syphilis, which simply means contagious disease or epidemic.

In Germany, syphilis was only widespread among city dwellers in the 18th century. She was treated with mercury, which helped against syphilis, but poisoned the patient. At times, as many people died from syphilis as from the plague. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that new drugs were developed, above all penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, which could curb the spread of syphilis.

It was not until March 3, 1905, that the Berlin military doctor Erich Hoffmann (1868 to 1959) and the zoologist Fritz Schaudinn (1871-1906) discovered the cause of the disease: the pathogen, the bacterium Treponema pallidum. T. pallidum got the attribute pallidum (lat. pale) from his because it is difficult to visualize in a light microscope due to its small diameter and the low colorability.

Probably the most famous victims of syphilis are the composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828), the poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).

Cause / pathogen

Treponema pallidum belongs to the group of coiled bacteria, the spirochetes. It has a diameter of 0.18 μm, a length of 6–20 μm and regular turns. Man is the only natural host of T. pallidum. Here the pathogen colonizes the mucous membranes.


The Stage I and II syphilis can heal without treatment. By timely and sufficient Syphilis therapy permanent damage can be avoided. However, if the syphilis is already in the neurosyphilis stage at the start of treatment, the prognosis is unfavorable.


The syphilis is one through infection with Treponema pallidum venereal disease caused. It belongs to the sexually transmitted diseases, but also during the pregnancy or at the birth can be transmitted from mother to child (Lues connata). Sexual transmission occurs through contact with the mucous membrane.

Learn more about: Syphilis in Pregnancy

Syphilis is one of the notifiable diseases in Germany. The course of the disease is divided into a primary (Ulcer at the Site of infection), a secondary (various manifestations, e.g. rash) and a tertiary stage (e.g. with neurological involvement). Latency times of different lengths can lie between the stages (Weeks to Years). Syphilis can be healed completely.