Syphilis Information

There’s a real growing problem with syphilis in the US. It’s an easy thing to take care of, you just have to do it. Here are some basic questions and answers about this easy-to-cure disease:

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Usually, symptoms show up 10-90 days (an average of 3 weeks) after a person is exposed to syphilis. Possible early symptoms: One or more skin sore called chancres (shank-er). They may be on the penis, scrotum, vaginal lips, anus, or mouth. Infected women may not be aware of any symptoms, because sores may be inside the vagina. Chancres are usually not painful. Even without treatment these sores go away after several weeks.

Even without the sores, you are still infected. Lymph glands near the sore may be swollen, and also are not painful. Possible later symptoms (4-12 weeks after becoming infected): Flu-like illness with sore throat, headache, and fever. Skin rash all over the body, in the mouth, on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (not itchy). Warty-like growths may appear in the mouth, on the genitals or around the anus. Patchy hair loss may be noticed. Nervous system symptoms: neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, seizures, hearing loss and loss of speech. These symptoms will go away even without treatment. You are still infected.

** See Symptoms for more information. **

How would I know if I have syphilis?

If you have a sore on your genitals, have an STD check. Special tests can diagnose syphilis from sores. A blood test for syphilis can be done. You could have syphilis and not know it. Anytime you have a test for STDs, ask for a syphilis blood test also.

Is syphilis dangerous?

Yes! If not treated, syphilis can cause brain damage, heart disease, and other long-term health problems. A pregnant woman can pass syphilis to her baby, which could cause permanent damage. The chancre also makes transmission of HIV much easier.

How is syphilis treated?

Penicillin shots cure syphilis. Other medicine can be used if you are allergic to penicillin. Sometimes older people who are no longer sexually active test positive for syphilis. They could have been infected many years ago. These people should be treated, because long-term, untreated syphilis could lead to brain, heart, and nervous system damage. At this late stage of syphilis, a person is not contagious to sex partners.

What can I do if I have syphilis?

You and your sex partner(s) must be examined and treated. If partners are not treated, they can give the infection back to you, or infect others.

Your syphilis blood test may stay positive (not normal) even after treatment. You will be required to undergo additional treatment during the first year of your diagnosis. You will no longer be contagious once treatment is completed.

How do I avoid getting syphilis?

  1. Plan ahead.
  2. Protect yourself.
  3. If you’re thinking of having sex with a new partner:

    * Talk about STDs.

    * Tell your partner that you want to have protected, safer sex (male or

    female condoms)

    * Suggest an STD check-up for both of you before having sex

Does Syphilis pose special problems for people with HIV?

It can. People with HIV sometimes have unusual results (higher or lower than they should be) on syphilis blood tests, which can make syphilis harder to diagnose. People with HIV also may have increased risk for neurosyphilis, syphilis complications involving the brain and nervous system. Also, people with HIV are more likely to have treatment failure using the regular doses of antibiotics for syphilis, and may need higher doses. Therefore, if you have HIV and are treated for syphilis, it is important that you follow up carefully with a doctor to make sure your syphilis infection has been successfully cured. Syphilis also makes it much easier for people with HIV to transmit HIV to their sex partners.

Do condoms work for syphilis?

Using a condom correctly and consistently can reduce the risk of syphilis.

You should note, though, that if the syphilis sore or open rash is not in an area protected by the condom, you could still get syphilis. And if you have oral sex without a condom (giving or getting), you can still get syphilis.

If I get treated for syphilis and am cured, can I get syphilis again?

Yes. Having syphilis does not give you immunity from getting syphilis again.