What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it is not treated. Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), and there are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage.
Signs and Symptoms
1st stage (primary syphilis)
- Symptoms begin 1-12 weeks after exposure
- A painless, open sore(s) on the mouth, genitals or anus
- Sore(s) can be “hidden” in the vagina or rectum
- Sore(s) last 1-5 weeks
- Sore(s) goes away, but syphilis is still in the blood
2nd stage (secondary syphilis)
- Symptoms show up 6 weeks to 6 months after sore appears
- A rash anywhere on the body
- Flu-like symptoms
- Whitish-grey patches on mouth/lips, wart-like lesions around genitals, and/or hair loss can occur but are less common
- No sores or rashes, but syphilis is still in the blood and can affect the heart, brain and other organs over time
Syphilis is spread by:
- Vaginal sex
- Oral sex
- Anal sex
- Infected mother to newborn
If left untreated, syphilis can:
- Spread to sex partners
- Cause heart disease
- Cause blindness
- Cause brain damage
- Make it easier to transmit or acquire HIV during sex
During pregnancy, syphilis may cause:
- Stillbirths in pregnant women
- Congenital birth defects
- Severe damage to bones, brain, lungs, liver and other organs in infected infants
- Avoiding vaginal, oral or anal sex is the best way to prevent STDs.
- Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of syphilis only when the infected areas are covered or protected by the condom.
- Always use latex condoms during vaginal and anal sex.
- Use a latex condom for oral sex on a penis.
- Use a latex barrier (dental dam or condom cut in half) for oral sex on a vagina or anus.
- Limit the number of sex partners.
- Notify sex partners immediately if infected.
- Make sure partners are tested and treated.
Testing and Treatment
- Get a test from a medical provider if infection is suspected.
- Syphilis can be cured using medication prescribed by medical provider.
- Partners should be treated at same time.
NOTE: A person can be re-infected after treatment.
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