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STDs

Syphilis: What is it? What are the symptoms?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection.

Stage 1: Symptoms show up 10 - 90 days (usually about 21 days) after having sex. A painless sore, called a chancre, appears at the spot where syphilis entered the body. The chancre lasts 3 - 6 weeks. The chancre will heal on its own, but you still have syphilis.

Stage 2: The second stage starts when one or more areas of the skin break into a rash that usually does not itch. Rashes can appear when the chancre fades or the rash can show up several weeks later. The rash often appears as rough, red or reddish brown spots both on the palms of the hands and on the bottoms of the feet. The rash also may also appear on other parts of the body with and look like other diseases. Sometimes the rashes are so faint that they are not noticed. Without treatment, rashes clear up on their own. In addition to rashes, second-stage symptoms can include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and tiredness. A person who is infected with syphilis can easily pass the disease to sex partners when primary or secondary stage signs or symptoms are present.

Stage 3 or Late Syphilis: The latent (hidden) stage of syphilis begins when the secondary symptoms disappear. If the person does not get treated they still have syphilis even though there are no signs or symptoms. It stays in their body, and it may begin to damage the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. This internal damage may show up many years later in the late or tertiary stage of syphilis. Late stage signs and symptoms include not being able to coordinate muscle movements, paralysis (not being able to move), numbness (not being able to feel), gradual blindness and dementia (not being able to concentrate, you forget things, you may become moody and your personality may change). This damage can be serious enough to cause death.

 

How do you get syphilis?

Syphilis is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus (butt hole), or in the rectum (inside the butt hole). Sores also can occur on the lips and in the mouth. Transmission of the organism occurs during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A pregnant woman with syphilis can pass it to her unborn child. Syphilis cannot be spread by toilet seats, door knobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bath tubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils (forks and spoons).

 

What if I don't get treated for syphilis?

If you don't get treated you will go into Stage 3 or Late syphilis and you may die.

 

Prevention

Two people who know that they are not infected and who have sex only with each other cannot contract syphilis. If someone has syphils, a good defense against becoming infected during sex is to use a latex condom before beginning sex and to keep it on until the penis is withdrawn. BUT condoms do not provide complete protection because syphilis sores can sometimes be on areas not covered by a condom. This is equally important for other STDs, including HIV. Only lab tests can tell if someone has syphilis. Because syphilis sores can be hidden in the vagina, rectum, or mouth, the sores may be hidden and hard to see. Washing the genitals, urinating (peeing), or douching (rinsing out the vagina) after sex does not prevent STDs, including syphilis. Any unusual discharge, sore, or rash, especially in the groin area, should be a sign to stop having sex and to see a doctor right away.

 

Treatment

A single shot of penicillin, an antibiotic, will cure a person who has had syphilis for less than a year. Larger shots are needed to cure someone who has had it for longer than a year. For people who are allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics are available to treat syphilis. There are no home remedies or over-the-counter drugs that will cure syphilis. Penicillin treatment will kill the syphilis bacterium and prevent further damage, but it will not repair any damage already done. Persons who receive syphilis treatment should abstain from sexual contact with new partners until the syphilis sores are completely healed. Persons with syphilis should let their sex partners know that they have syphilis so that they also can be tested, and get treatment.