Syphilis

About 50,000 people in the US get syphilis every year

What is Syphilis, and how do you get it?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s spread through sex and can affect the vagina, anus, penis, scrotum, and sometimes your lips and mouth. It shows up as a painless sore, called a chancre, at the spot where the bacteria entered the body, and is often mistaken for an ingrown hair or pimple. Syphilis sores are very contagious and easily pass the infection to other people during sex. . This is why regular testing for STIs is so important.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Only lab tests can tell if someone has syphilis. There are three stages of the infection, and will appear if syphilis is not treated.

Stage 1: About 10-90 days after having sex, a painless sore, called a chancre, appears at the spot where syphilis entered the body, and lasts about 3 - 6 weeks. Although the chancre will heal on its own, you are still infected with syphilis. You have to take medication to prevent the infection from progressing to the next stage.

Stage 2: A rough, red or reddish-brown rash breaks out on the palms of your hand, soles of your feet and other parts of your body. 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. You must be treated to prevent the infection from progressing to the next stage.

Stage 3: If the person does not get treated for syphilis, it stays in the 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 causing paralysis, memory loss, blindness, and even death.

Do I need to get treated for syphilis?

Absolutely! 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. Syphilis is very contagious; if you don’t get treated right away it will progress to the more serious stages of infection. A pregnant woman with syphilis can pass it to her unborn child. 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.

What is the treatment for syphilis?

A single shot of penicillin, an antibiotic, from a medical provider 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. Syphilis cannot be spread by toilet seats, door knobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bath tubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils (forks and spoons).

How do I prevent getting or spreading syphilis?

If someone has syphilis, use a latex condom before beginning sex and to keep it on until the penis is withdrawn; condoms do not provide complete protection because syphilis sores can sometimes be on areas not covered by a condom. 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.