- Syphilis is caused by a bacterium called Treponema
- Syphilis is still at historically low levels in
the U.S., but rates have been increasing during the
last few years
- In LA County, case numbers have greatly increased
among some groups such as men who have sex with men
- Increasing syphilis cases in women have resulted
in more pregnant women passing syphilis to their
fetus or baby
- Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics
- If left untreated, syphilis can cause permanent
damage to the heart, brain, and other organs
- Having syphilis can increase your chances of getting HIV
Fact Sheets in Multiple Languages
How do you get it?
Syphilis is passed during sex (vaginal, anal, or oral sex) or skin-to-skin contact with infected areas. Pregnant women with syphilis can pass it to their
fetus or baby during pregnancy
Syphilis is a disease that has different stages. Each stage is characterized by different
symptoms. These symptoms come and go, but unless syphilis is treated and cured,
it will remain in the body and can cause serious damage over time. The stages
Primary syphilis: A painless sore (or
sores) called a chancre appears on, around, or
inside the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus. The
chancre appears 10 days to three months after
exposure. The sore is full of bacteria and is very
infectious. Many people never notice the chancre
because it may be inside the vagina or somewhere
else hard to see or feel. Chancres generally last
two to six weeks and then disappear on their own.
Secondary syphilis: A few weeks after the chancres disappear,
or sometimes at the same time, a rash may appear on the body, hands, and/or feet. The rash is infectious and can look like other rashes and even wart-like growths. Other symptoms may include mild fever, sore throat,
wart-like growths on the genitals, or clumpy hair loss. These symptoms may
go away quickly or come and go for about a year.
Latent syphilis: A year after infection,
all symptoms usually disappear on their own and the person is no longer infectious to sex partners.
However, the disease is still in the body, and
if not treated can cause serious complications years later.
Syphilis can damage the eyes, ears or brain,
even in its early stages. If left
untreated, syphilis remains in the body and can cause further damage. The final
stage of syphilis, known as tertiary or late syphilis, occurs decades (10 years
or more) after infection. Complications can include damage to the skin, bones
and internal organs; swelling of the brain, blindness, seizures, dementia, and
insanity; and damage to blood vessels and the heart. These complications can
lead to death.
To get tested for syphilis,
go to a doctor or a local clinic. A blood sample is required to test for
syphilis. You should get tested regularly for syphilis if you are a man who has sex
with men, have HIV infection, and/or have partner(s) who have tested positive
for syphilis. Pregnant women should be tested for syphilis during pregnancy and
at delivery and receive immediate treatment if infected.
Syphilis can be easily treated and cured with certain antibiotics (given as a shot). Make sure both you and your sex partner(s) complete treatment before having sex again. You should not attempt to diagnose yourself or take medicine on your own.
Latex, polyurethane, and female condoms offer some protection against
syphilis, but may not cover all infectious areas.
You can usually avoid
getting syphilis if you and your partner only have sex with each other.
persons should be tested for syphilis regularly depending on your HIV status and
sexual behavior. If syphilis is detected and
treated early, pregnant women can prevent damage to the baby.