What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a serious STI (sexually transmitted infection) that can cause long-term damage to the body when left untreated. Sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus of a person with syphilis can transmit it. Antibiotics can cure syphilis, but not the damage already caused by the infection.
What are the Symptoms of Syphilis?
Syphilis often begins as a sore where it enters the body. The sore mostly occurs on or near the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus. The sore does not hurt and goes away without treatment after a few weeks. Some people never even notice it. But they can still transmit the disease and cause harm. Later, other symptoms include:
- Rashes on the palms of the hands and bottoms of the feet, chest, back, or around the genitals or anus
- Hair loss
- Headaches, fever, and sore throat
Like the sore, these symptoms go away without treatment, but the person still has syphilis. If left untreated, the infection can cause serious health problems like arthritis, heart disease, nervous system problems, dementia, blindness, and even death.
Should You Get a Syphilis Test?
You should get tested if you or someone you have sex with has symptoms. If you think you have syphilis, get tested at your clinician’s office or an STI clinic. Simple blood tests can tell if you have an infection. You can have syphilis without symptoms, so get tested if you have sex without condoms.
If you have syphilis, follow the clinician’s advice about taking medicine. Tell anyone you had sex with to get tested. The health department can help you do this if you do not want to.
What About Syphilis and Pregnancy?
A pregnant woman can pass syphilis to her unborn child. Untreated syphilis can cause stillbirth (a baby born dead), premature birth, and severe disabilities. Texas law requires clinicians to test all pregnant women at their first prenatal visit, in the third trimester, and again at delivery. A pregnant woman who tests positive for syphilis should receive treatment immediately. Penicillin is the only available treatment for a pregnant woman with syphilis.
Syphilis and HIV
A person with syphilis is at higher risk for HIV. The sore can provide an entry point for HIV and other STIs. When you get tested for syphilis, you should also ask to get tested for HIV and other STIs.
The only sure way to avoid syphilis and other STIs is to not have sex. Vaginal, oral, and anal sex can pass syphilis and other STIs.
If you do have sex, use a latex condom every time. When used correctly, condoms can stop the spread of syphilis by preventing contact with the sore. Keep in mind that syphilis sores can occur outside the area covered by a condom.
Staying with one partner who only has sex with you also helps prevent STIs. Use condoms unless tests show you and your partner do not have any STIs.
Where to get tested for Syphilis
Syphilis, HIV, and Hepatitis B Testing and Pregnancy
STD Treatment Guidelines 2021
Includes treatment recommendations for Syphilis.
The Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Syphilis
Guidelines for the effective management of syphilis.
Texas STD Surveillance Report
This report includes Syphilis infection rates and demographic data for Texas.