Syphilis

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, July 6, 2017

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria. It's spread during vaginal, oral and anal sex. Syphilis is curable with antibiotics.

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Are there symptoms of syphilis?

Yes, but like other STDs, syphilis symptoms can go unnoticed. Early on, skin sores can show up on the penis, vagina, anus, or in the mouth. These sores usually aren't painful and sometimes aren’t noticed. These sores usually aren't painful and sometimes aren’t noticed. The sore will go away on it’s own and then a rash develops most notably on the palms and feet. Left untreated or unnoticed, advanced syphilis can cause serious problems including brain damage, paralysis, blindness, and death.

How do you get syphilis?

Syphilis is spread through direct contact with syphilis sores during anal, genital or oral sex. How can it be prevented? Abstaining from sex at all is the only way to be 100% safe from STDs. If you are sexually active, use a condom every time you have anal, genital or oral sex.

How do I get tested for syphilis?

The Rapid Plasma Reagin Test (RPR) is a simple blood test that looks for antibodies the body makes to fight the syphilis infection. It can take 4 to 6 weeks after infection for antibodies to be detected. It's also important to know that if you've had syphilis in the past and were treated, the test may still be positive. If the RPR is positive, a confirmatory test is automatically done. Always keep a copy of your health records to show your doctor if you test positive again as the doctor will need to compare the 2 tests to determine if you have a new or previously treated infected.

Is there a treatment or a cure for syphilis?

Yes. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. Your partner must be tested for syphilis before you can have sexual contact again or you may get re-infected after you’ve been cured.

What if I don't get treated for syphilis?

In both men and women, syphilis can be silent for years. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to serious health problems and possibly death. For pregnant women, untreated syphilis can cause a miscarriage or the baby can be born with the disease. Congenital syphilis, or syphilis passed from mother to baby, is a very serious, life-threatening infection if left untreated. It’s very important for sexually active persons to get tested.

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