A patient being examined

Syphilis

Early treatment is essential

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. Even though it is curable, if syphilis isn’t treated, it can cause serious damage to your brain, heart, nervous system, and even lead to death.

How do I get syphilis?

Syphilis can be passed on when infected lesions come in contact with the soft skin found inside the vagina, urethra or with an abrasion during vaginal, oral, and anal sex—even if there is no sexual penetration. It is most easily spread during the first (primary) stage because symptoms usually go unnoticed.

A person can also get syphilis if they are exposured to lesions or syphilitic “warts” during the secondary stage.

What does syphilis do to my body?

Syphilis affects the body in stages.

Stage 1
Between 10-90 days after exposure
Primary Stage
  • Sores appear in the genital area (penis or vagina) or the mouth within ten days to 3 months after infection.
  • The sores are usually firm, round, small, and painless.
  • The sores should go away on their own, but bacteria stays in the body (without treatment).
Stage 2
Secondary Stage
  • If the infection is not treated, a rash may develop.
  • The rash looks like rough, red or reddish-brown spots that typically don't itch, on the palms of hands and bottoms of feet.
  • A person may have rashes on other parts of the body or may have other symptoms like fever, swollen glands, or hair loss.
Stage 3
Can last for many years
Latent Stage
  • If a person doesn't get treated, the infection will stay in their body, even though there are no symptoms. The infection is called "latent".
  • This "latent" stage can last for years.
Stage 4
Can appear 10-30 after infection
Late Stage
  • If not treated, the bacteria attack other parts of the body.
  • It can attack the brain, heart, eyes, bones, liver, blood vessels, nerves, and joints.
  • Blindness and brain damage can happen.

Is there a cure for syphilis?

Yes! Antibiotics can cure syphilis. Your health care provider can prescribe this.

How do I find out if I have syphilis?

You can get tested for syphilis at your health care provider’s office or a clinic. Syphilis can be found by blood tests or by testing fluid taken from lesions or swollen lymph nodes, which occur during primary or secondary syphilis. If you don’t have a health care provider, you can search for a place to get tested here.

Syphilis and pregnancy

If you think you are pregnant or may become pregnant it is very important to get tested for syphilis. Syphilis can be passed on by a pregnant person to their baby during pregnancy. Syphilis during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or death shortly after birth. Infants born with syphilis can have lifelong health issues.

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