Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be treated with medication. However, if left untreated, it can lead to severe health issues affecting the heart, brain, muscles, bones, and eyes. To lower your risk of getting syphilis, always use a condom during sexual activities.
What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is an STI that spreads through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. It’s caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can lead to serious problems like blindness and damage to the brain, heart, eyes, and nervous system.
Stages of Syphili
Syphilis has four stages, each with different symptoms. The first two stages are highly contagious. These stages are:
- Primary Syphili: Occurs 2 to 12 weeks after exposure, causing a painless sore on the genitals or mouth called a chancre. The sore heals on its own, but the infection can progress if not treated.
- Secondary Syphili: One to six months later, a rash appears, along with symptoms like fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and more. The rash doesn’t itch, and symptoms can come and go.
- Latent Syphili: If untreated, enters a hidden stage with no symptoms. It can last up to 20 years but can still damage organs.
- Late (Tertiary): About 20% of people progress to this stage, which can lead to severe problems like brain damage, heart disease, and vision issues.
This occurs when a pregnant person passes syphili to their baby during pregnancy. It can cause severe health problems or even death in infants.
How Common is Syphilis?
In 2020, there were approximately 134,000 reported cases of syphilis, with men and men who have sex with men being more commonly affected.
Who Might Get Syphilis?
Anyone sexually active can get it, but the risk is higher if you:
- Have unprotected sex, especially with multiple partners.
- Are a man who has sex with men.
- Have HIV.
- Have had sex with someone who tested positive for syphili.
- Tested positive for another STI like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or herpes.
Symptoms and Causes
Symptoms of Syphili:
Symptom vary by stage, but in the early stages, you may have sores on the genitals. Later stages can bring rashes and flu-like symptoms, but sometimes, there are no symptoms at all. Treatment is essential, even if symptoms disappear.
Appearance of Syphili:
In the first stage, a small, painless sore appears. In the second stage, a red or brown rash develops and can cover the entire body, including the palms and soles. Sores can also appear in the mouth, vagina, or anus.
Causes of Syphili:
Syphilis is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum, which spreads through sexual contact. It can enter the body through the anus, vagina, penis, mouth, or broken skin.
How Syphilis Spreads:
Syphilis is contagious, especially in the first two stages when sores or rashes are present. It spreads through sexual contact, even without penetration or ejaculation. You can also get it through direct contact with a sore.
You’re contagious even without symptoms. If you suspect exposure or have symptoms, seek healthcare promptly.
Can You Get Syphilis from Kissing?
While rare, direct contact with a syphilis sore, including through kissing or broken skin, can transmit the infection.
Syphilis and Pregnancy:
Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can harm the fetus, leading to severe complications like miscarriage or stillbirth.
Untreated syphilis can lead to severe complications affecting the heart, brain, spinal cord, and other organs, including blindness and paralysis.
Diagnosis and Tests
Healthcare providers use blood tests and examine sores or fluid from them to diagnose syphilis. Regular testing is crucial, especially if you’re at a higher risk.
Management and Treatment
Antibiotics like penicillin are used to treat syphilis. Completing the prescribed treatment is essential, and partners should be notified for testing and treatment.
Is Syphilis Curable?
Yes, antibiotics can cure, but they can’t reverse the damage already done to organs.
Prevent disease and other STIs by abstaining from sex or using condoms/dental dams correctly during sex. Know your partner’s sexual history and encourage them to get tested and treated if necessary.
Early treatment leads to better outcomes. Without treatment, syphili can cause severe health issues.
Can You Get Syphili Again?
Yes, reinfection is possible. Practice safe sex and get tested regularly if at risk.
STIs like syphili require immediate medical attention. Complete treatment and notify sexual partners. Practice safe sex, get regular tests, and limit sexual partners.
When to See a Healthcare Provider:
If you have genital or mouth sores, seek medical attention promptly to get tested and treated.
Additional Common Questions
Syphilis vs. STI/STD:
Syphilis is both an STI and STD, terms that describe infections spread through sexual contact. However, “STI” is more precise and less stigmatized than STD.