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Syphilis

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria. The bacterium is passed on through direct contact with syphilis sore. This generally happens through sexual contact, such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

If left untreated syphilis can cause severe neurological damage.

An infected mother can spread the disease to her fetus, with serious and potentially fatal consequences for the baby.

Syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics.

If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health risks. Every year, about 40,000 people get infected with syphilis in the United States.

What are the signs or symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis often has no or very mild symptoms and can often go unnoticed.

In an early stage a sore or open, wet, ulcer may appear. This sore is usually painless. It usually appears 3 weeks after the infection, but it may take longer for the sores to appear, sometimes up to 90 days. The sores will go away again after 3 to 6 weeks. Sores appear on the penis, vagina, anus, or in the mouth.

Three to six weeks after the sores have appeared, people who have syphilis can develop a rash on their palms and feet. These rashes last 2 to 6 weeks and can come and go for 2 years.

If left untreated, people in a later stage of Syphilis can experience damage to the nervous system, heart, brain, and/or other organs which can lead to paralysis, blindness, and even death.

How is syphilis passed on?

Syphilis is spread by contact of syphilis sore. Because syphilis sores mostly occur on male and female genital and anal areas, it is spread by having vaginal and anal intercourse or oral sex.

People are most contagious when sores are present. The fluid inside the sores is very infectious.

How do I get tested for it?

A sample of blood will be tested for antibodies that are specific to a syphilis infection. This test is called the Rapid Plasma Reagin (RPR) Test. It can last 4 to 6 weeks after the infection before the antibodies can be detected.

If you had a syphilis infection in the past and were treated for it there is still a possibility that the test will come back positive. It is important that your health care provider knows about this.

Your health care provider may also order a more sensitive test to confirm the results that were found by the RPR to make sure that the first test was not false positive.

Can syphilis be cured?

Yes. Syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics in order to kill the bacteria. It is important that both you and your partner are being treated at the same time. Please follow you health care provider’s instructions.

Damage that occurs in a later stage of this disease is irreversible. That is why is its very important to be checked regularly for syphilis so the disease can be detected and treated in an early stage.

What if I don’t get it treated?

If you don’t get treated, you have an increased risk of getting HIV if you are exposed to it.

Although syphilis can be silent for many years in both men and women, if it is left untreated it can cause serious irreversible damage to your health and even death.

For women who are pregnant, untreated syphilis can cause a miscarriage or a stillbirth or the baby can be born with serious birth defects. Pregnant women with syphilis can be treated to prevent harm to the baby.

Did You Know?

30% of people infected with Syphilis show NO signs or symptoms?

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