What Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted infection caused by bacteria called Treponema pallidum. While it’s one of the most easily cured sexually-transmitted diseases, it’s also one of the most dangerous when it’s left untreated. In 2017, there were more than 30,000 cases of syphilis reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 10.5 percent increase from 2016 and a 72.7 percent increase from 2013.

How Do You Get Syphilis?

You get syphilis by coming into contact with a syphilis sore when you have oral, vaginal or anal sex. Ejaculation or intercourse are not required to transmit syphilis.

How Do You Know if You Have Syphilis?

It’s very common to have syphilis and not know it. The symptoms for syphilis are very similar to the symptoms for other common ailments, such as a cold or the flu, and they go away on their own. It doesn’t occur to most people that their flu-like symptoms might be the sign of a syphilis infection.

A small, painless sore usually develops after being infected with syphilis. This is often accompanied by symptoms you would have with other diseases. This is called primary state syphilis.

If not treated, syphilis returns to cause fever, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue and often causes a skin rash on your hands or feet. These symptoms go away on their own. This is called secondary-stage syphilis.

After these symptoms resolve on their own, syphilis remains in your body but goes dormant. In 10 or 20 years, the disease wakes up in some people and attacks major internal organs such as the brain, eyes, nerves, heart and liver. Symptoms include paralysis, dementia and blindness.
This is called late-stage syphilis and it can kill you.

Can You Treat or Cure Syphilis?

When detected early, syphilis is one of the most curable sexually-transmitted diseases. If you’ve had syphilis for less than a year, one or two shots of penicillin typically cure you of the disease. However, the longer you’ve had syphilis, the harder it is to cure, and you will never be able to reverse any of the damage it has already done.

Is Syphilis Dangerous?

Syphilis can kill you, but only if you let it remain undetected in your body for a long period of time. Since it’s so easy to identify and cure syphilis, only regular STD testing can ensure that syphilis doesn’t endanger your life.

Can You Prevent Syphilis?

Abstinence is the only way to prevent contracting syphilis. A mutually monogamous relationship where both partners have been tested for STDs is the next most effective. Other sexually-active adults can lower the risk for getting syphilis by using condoms and dental dams.

How Do You Test for Syphilis?

Syphilis is detected using two blood tests. The first test determines whether you have or have had syphilis, because once you test positive for syphilis, you will always test positive for syphilis The second test determines how much syphilis is in your body, and this is used to determine whether you are actively infected with the disease.

Can I Get an Anonymous Syphilis Test?

Every state requires medical professionals to submit the personal information of anyone who tests positive for syphilis. If you want to get an anonymous syphilis test, you need to follow the instructions in our Guide to Anonymous STD Testing. It tells you what you need to do to work around the regulations and protect the privacy of your STD test results and treatment.

How Can I Find Out More About Syphilis?

CDC Fact Sheet on Syphilis

Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis
Syphilis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Pathology

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