Syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If left untreated, syphilis can cause brain, nerve, tissue damage, and death. Fortunately, syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.

  • Causes

    Syphilis is caused by specific bacteria. It is transmitted through direct contact with a syphilis lesion. This may occur when:

    • There is vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact with an infected person

    • A pregnant woman passes the infection to her unborn baby—congenital syphilis

  • Definition

    Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If left untreated, syphilis can cause brain, nerve, tissue damage, and death. Fortunately, syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

    • Examining samples taken from lesions
    • Blood test to detect syphilis antibodies.
    • Spinal tap
      to look for infection in fluid around the spine and brain called neurosyphilis

    Syphilis testing is part of routine prenatal care. This is done to treat and prevent congenital syphilis.

    All people who have syphilis should also be tested for HIV.

  • Prevention

    To reduce your chance of getting syphilis:

    • Abstain from vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
    • Have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner.

    • Use a latex
      condom
      during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. This is especially important if you are unsure of your partner's status.
    • Have regular checkups for sexually transmitted diseases.
    • Make sure your sexual partner is also treated if you have primary, secondary, or early latent syphilis.

    It may not be obvious that a sex partner has syphilis. Do not assume your partner is healthy just because you do not see lesions.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of getting syphilis include:

    • Having sex with a person infected with syphilis
    • Having multiple sex partners
    • Not using a latex condom during vaginal, anal, or oral sex
    • Touching a syphilis lesion
    • Having other sexually transmitted diseases

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms will depend on what stage the syphilis is in. There are four main stages.

  • Treatment

    Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic and length of treatment will depend on how long you have been infected. Half of those being treated for syphilis will have fever with headache, muscle aches, and other symptoms during the first 24 hours of treatment.

    If you have syphilis of any stage, avoid sexual relations until treatment is complete and the infection is cleared up. All sex partners should be notified. They will need to be treated as well.