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Syphilis is a very serious sexually transmitted and viral infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. Typically three weeks pass before the first symptoms occur: first painful rashes on genitals and later insanity and death. The bacteria cannot transmit through skin - thus, you cannot get infected through e.g. holding hands. The infection was initially known as the 'French disease' but research shows that when Christopher Columbus came back to Europe in 1492, he brought tobacco, cocoa but also syphilis.