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Spirochete Infections - An Overview

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Spirochete infections include a variety of human diseases due to certain spiral-shaped bacterium. Read below to learn about the same.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Shubadeep Debabrata Sinha

Published At January 31, 2023
Reviewed AtJanuary 31, 2023


A spirochete is a group of spiral-shaped bacteria. Infections caused by spirochete are known as spirochetal infections. Some of the spirochetes cause diseases in humans. These are gram-negative, mobile, spiral bacteria with a length of 3 to 500 micrometers. Spirochetes have endocellular flagella (small hair-like projections that help in the motion of bacteria), which vary depending on the species and range from 2 to 100 per organism. The fibrils of flagella wind around the cell body, each attaching at the opposite end. Typically, spirochetes are present in a watery environment, such as mud, water, blood, and lymph.

How Do Spirochetes Spread?

Spirochetes infections spread in the following way:

  • A tick bite (a parasite that feeds on warm-blooded living things). They carry out their attacks at night, staying close for no more than 30 minutes before dispersing. Ticks consume spirochetes as they feed on diseased humans or animals.

  • Contamination with infected saliva.

  • Contact with contaminated coxal fluid on mucous membranes.

What Microorganisms Are Included in Spirochetes?

These include Leptospira, Borrelia, Treponema, and Spirochaeta. These cause various human diseases, such as:

  • Treponema pallidum is the agent that causes syphilis and yaw infection in humans.

  • Several species of Borrelia spread through lice and ticks and are responsible for human Lyme disease and relapsing fever.

  • Leptospira causes leptospirosis and is primarily a disease of domestic and wild mammals, and infects humans.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a zoonotic infection. A zoonotic infection originates in an animal reservoir and spreads to people by a zoonotic vector. Borrelia Burgdorferi bacterium causes Lyme disease. Ticks are the disease carrier. Ticks feed on various creatures, such as rodents, birds, and deer. Ticks consume blood while releasing saliva into the animal when they feed. The bacteria are present in their saliva and multiply in their midgut. The lifecycle of the ticks has three stages; throughout each stage, they feed for five days. Consequently, a tick may bite a person and spread sickness (however, the disease cannot be passed from human to human).

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

There are two stages of the illness: acute and chronic.

Acute symptoms are those that appear soon after being bitten and have the following:

  • Flu-like disease.

  • Erythema migrans (bulls-eye rash) appear at the bite location.

  • Creation of new lesions far from the site of origin.

Chronic symptoms can appear anywhere from a week to two years after infection and include:

  • Meningitis - Inflammation of the meninges (protective covering layer present on the brain and spinal cords).

  • Encephalitis (inflammation of brain tissue).

  • Motor Nerve Palsy - Muscle activity dysfunction.

  • Peripheral Neuropathy - Damage to the peripheral nerves resulting in peripheral muscle deficiency, among other neurological conditions.

  • Cardiac issues include arthritis (bone inflammation) and arthralgia (bone pain).

What Is the Prevention and Treatment of Lyme Disease?

Doxycycline is the primary treatment; however, if the infection persists for a long time, it can become a serious issue and be more challenging to treat. A vaccination is created. However, it could be more effective and has many adverse effects. Preventive measures include protecting naked skin and avoiding endemic areas.

What Is Leptospirosis?

Rats and dogs are the main reservoirs for bacteria, which can be found in their urine. Stamped-water locations contain this bacteria. The bacteria typically take 2 to 3 weeks to incubate.

What Are the Symptoms of Leptospirosis?

The primary cause of the symptoms is the bacteria's penetration of blood vessels. Symptoms include:

  • Virulent sickness.

  • Flu-like disease.

  • Muscle ache.

  • Red eyes.

  • Diarrhea.

Weil's illness can develop from this condition in a few cases, which cause:

  • Kidney failure.

  • Jaundice.

  • Liver failure.

  • Altered mental state.

What Are the Preventive Measures and Treatment for Leptospirosis?

Antibiotic Prophylaxis - The primary kind of treatment is doxycycline. Doxycycline stops the multiplication of bacteria and helps in killing bacteria.

Prevention - Prevention involves staying away from locations with standing water.

What Is Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Periodontitis and Gingivitis (ANUG)?

It is a disease involving the spirochaete known as Treponema vincentii, Fusobacterium, and Spirochaetes. It is frequently linked to those who have weakened immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS.

What Are the Symptoms of ANUG?

The symptoms of ANUG include the following-

  • Severe gum discomfort.

  • Halitosis (bad breath).

  • Tooth bleeding.

  • Ulcerated and necrosed interdental papillae (gum present between two teeth).

What Is the Treatment of ANUG?

The two essential treatments are mouthwash with either metronidazole or hydrogen peroxide. Administration of antibiotic Metronidazole. Removal of the necrotic epithelium (damaged covering) is necessary.

What Is Syphilis?

A bacterial infection called syphilis is typically spread through sexual contact. The condition often begins as a painless sore in the mouth, genitalia, or rectum. Coming in physical contact with these skin lesions or mucous membranes can transmit the disease from one person to another.

What Are the Symptoms of Syphilis?

The symptoms of syphilis change as it progresses through different stages. The symptoms do not always manifest in the same order, and the stages sometimes overlap. It is also possible to have syphilis without ever experiencing any symptoms.

  • Primary Syphilis - A tiny sore known as the chancre is the initial symptom of syphilis. The sore develops at the site from where the bacteria enter the body. Most syphilis patients only develop one chancre sore but occasionally experience multiple ones. Typically, the sore appears three weeks after exposure. The wound will naturally heal within three to six weeks because it is typically painless and can be present within the vagina or rectum. This, unfortunately, results in many individuals with syphilis failing to discover their condition.

  • Secondary Syphilis - A rash that starts on the trunk and ultimately covers the entire body, including the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. It may appear a few weeks after the chancre (sore) heals. Usually not itchy, this rash may be followed by lesions resembling warts in the mouth or the genitalia. Hair loss, muscle aches, fever, sore throats, and enlarged lymph nodes are other symptoms that some patients encounter. These warning signs and symptoms may go away in a few weeks or recur for up to a year.

  • Latent Syphilis - If syphilis is left untreated, it progresses from the second stage to hidden (latent) when there are no symptoms. Latent settings can persist for many years. It's possible for symptoms to disappear completely or for the disease to advance to the third (tertiary) stage.

  • Tertiary Syphilis - About 15 % to 30 % of the syphilis patients who refuse treatment go on to develop tertiary syphilis, which is a more severe form of disease. The condition may harm the liver, bones, joints, brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and other organs in its advanced stages.

  • Neurosyphilis - Syphilis has the potential to spread at any stage and harm the brain, neurological system, and eye, among other organs.

  • Congenital Syphilis (Born with Syphilis) - Syphilis can spread to newborns from syphilis-positive mothers through the placenta or during delivery. Although some babies with congenital syphilis develop a rash on the palms and soles, most newborns with this condition show no symptoms. Deafness, tooth malformations, and saddle noses (where the bridge of the nose collapses) may appear as later indications and symptoms. But syphilis-positive newborns can also be premature, pass away in the womb before birth, or experience postpartum (after birth) mortality.

What Is the Treatment for Syphilis?

The prognosis for syphilis varies depending on how quickly it is detected and treated. Syphilis is no longer a lifelong condition. Penicillin injections and other antibiotics like Tetracycline and Erythromycin are highly successful against spirochetes and halt the progression of the disease at any stage. However, nothing can reverse the spirochete-caused neurologic or other damage while treating late-stage syphilis; therefore, pregnant women are regularly screened for syphilis.

How to Diagnose Spirochetal Lesion?

There are various laboratory techniques for spirochetal infection detection. Different tests have been created for the diagnosis of spirochete infections. These serological tests detect antibodies for particular diseases designed to diagnose spirochete infections. The spirochetes can be seen microscopically by studying the fluid from the original lesions.


The first documented findings of spirochetes isolated from the neurological system have been reports of spirochetal infections in the eyes. Spirochetes cause various local and systemic complications in the body; early recognition of symptoms, diagnosis, and prompt treatment can stop the disease in its early stage and prevent further complications due to advancement in diagnostic procedures. The condition can be detected in the early stages. Patients are advised to consult a doctor as soon as they find any related symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions


Spirochetes Induce Which Diseases?

Pathogenic spirochetes cause several significant illnesses are:
- Syphilis.
- Lyme disease. 
- Leptospirosis. 
- Swine dysentery.
- Periodontal disease.
- Relapsing fever.


What Are Five Spirochetes Bacteria Examples?

Following are the examples of spirochete bacteria:
- Borrelia garinii.
- Borrelia afzelii. 
- Borrelia recurrentis.
- Treponema pallidum variant. 
- Brachyspira pilosicoli. 
- Brachyspira Aalborg.


What Are the Signs of Spirochete Infection?

As the infection advances, one or more systemic signs or symptoms, such as 
- Temperature. 
- Malaise. 
- Headache. 
- Stiff neck.
- Fatigue.


What Antibiotic Kills Spirochetes?

The following are the antibiotics that kill spirochetes:
- Penicillin G.
- Beta-lactams (ceftriaxone).
- Erythromycin. 
- Tetracycline. 
- Doxycycline.
- Chloramphenicol.


What Is the Treatment for Spirochete?

The line of treatment for a spirochete is antibiotics such as Doxycycline or Amoxicillin are used to treat the infection.


How Do Spirochetes Impact Humans?

Spirochetes are responsible for several serious human illnesses, including syphilis, Lyme disease, and leptospirosis.


How Can Spirochetes Be Avoided?

The drug of preference is benzathine penicillin. The same regimen is used to treat patients in the late and early phases and their contacts. Those who are penicillin-allergic are given tetracycline or doxycycline for 14 days if they are older than 8 or erythromycin if they are younger than 8.


What Are the Most Frequent Spirochetes?

Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), commonly known as B. burgdoferi, the treponemes, and Leptospira interrogans is the most serious spirochetal pathogen for human disease.


How Do Spirochetes Reproduce?

The spirochaete can reproduce asexually by binary fission. Binary fission produces two distinct spirochaetes.


How Do Spirochetes Spread?

The transmission routes to a host are still being investigated; spirochetes may be transmitted by tick saliva with generalized infectiousness, as well as regurgitation of infected gut contents or even contaminated fecal material.


Are Spirochetes Bacteria or Parasites?

Borrelia burgdorferi is a tick-borne obligatory parasite that normally lives in a range of small mammals.


What Spirochete Causes Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne disease, caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi and related Borrelia species.


Do Spirochetes Dwell in Lice?

Yes, spirochetes are microorganisms found in lice, fleas, ticks, and mites.


How Do You Treat Spirochetes in Dogs?

To reverse the consequences of dehydration, fluid therapy will be the primary treatment. If your dog has been vomiting, an antiemetic may be supplied, and a gastric tube may be used to feed your dog if its inability to eat or keep food down persists.


How Should Spirochetes Be Seen Microscopically?

Spirochaetes are axial filament-powered, thin-walled, spiral-shaped animals that can move around. Except for B. Vincenti, they cannot be detected in a Gram stain. Still, they can be observed using dark-ground illumination microscopy or a silver stain under a light microscope.
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Dr. Shubadeep Debabrata Sinha
Dr. Shubadeep Debabrata Sinha

Infectious Diseases


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