“The Five” is a series of blog posts that will look at some of the most common STIs/STDs and give you answers to five of the most important questions you should be asking.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are often not talked about because it can be an awkward topic, and when they are discussed, they are frequently misunderstood. For young adults, they are a big problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of Syphilis in recent years and that right now those rates are higher than they have been in 15 years. In 2014 CDC reported there were 63,450 new cases.
Asking the right questions and getting accurate answers is important. Because the more you know, the better you can protect yourself.
The Five – Syphilis
#1 – What is Syphilis and how do you get it?
Syphilis is a common STD that when not treated can cause long-term complications, but is simple to cure when caught and treated correctly. You get Syphilis by coming into direct contact with a Syphilis sore. As with most STDs, that happens by having oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone who is infected. Syphilis sores can be found on the penis, vagina, anus, inside the rectum, and on the lips and inside the mouth. It can also be passed from an infected pregnant woman to her unborn baby.
#2 – What are the symptoms of Syphilis?
Syphilis symptoms are divided into 4 stages.
Primary Stage: During the first stage you may notice a single or multiple sores located where it entered the body. These sores are often round shaped, firm and do not cause pain. The sore can last from 3-6 weeks and will heal regardless of treatment, but the infection is still there and without treatment will move to the next stage.
Secondary Stage: During this stage you may experience rashes and sores in your mouth, vagina, or anus. The rash may show up in a single or multiple places. It can also show up while you are experiencing healing for your primary sore, or may happen several weeks after healing. Additional symptoms that may occur are rashes on your hands or feet, fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. These symptoms will also go away with or without treatment. But without treatment, your infection will move into the latent or possibly the late stage.
Latent Stage: This stage happens when all of the earlier symptoms disappear. If you didn’t receive treatment, you still have Syphilis in your body and may go years without any symptoms. Most people without treatment don’t develop late stage Syphilis, however if it does occur, it can be 10-30 years after the infection started and can be serious.
Late Stage: During late stage Syphilis you experience difficulty coordinating your muscle activity, have paralysis, numbness, blindness and develop dementia. At this stage, the infection damages your internal organs and can result in death.
More information on the stages of Syphilis can be found at the CDC website.
#3 – How can I find out if I have Syphilis?
Syphilis is most often diagnosed with a blood test. Sometimes health care providers will also use fluid from a Syphilis sore for testing purposes.
#4 – Is there a cure for Syphilis?
Yes. With the right antibiotics, Syphilis can be cured. However, as the disease develops, the treatment will not undo any of the damage that the infection has already caused. Getting tested and treated early is important.
It is important to note that once you’ve been treated successfully for Syphilis, you are not protected from getting it again. Unless you know that your partner has been tested and treated for Syphilis you are at risk.
#5 – What happens if I don’t get tested and treated if I have Syphilis?
As noted above, most cases of Syphilis move into the latent stage without treatment. However, there is a risk of it moving to the late stage with serious consequences that might include death. For pregnant women, there is also a risk of passing it to your unborn baby which carries the risk of serious health problems such as cataracts, deafness, seizures, and possibly death. To protect the baby, you should be tested for Syphilis during your pregnancy and again at delivery and receive immediate treatment if the test is positive.
As we mentioned earlier, young people are a high-risk group when it comes to STDs like Syphilis. Latex condoms and dental dams used the correct way every time you have sex will lower your risk. However, the only sure-fire way to avoid getting any STD is to not have sexual contact (vaginal, oral or anal), until you are in a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.
Bottom line, we want you to have all the information you need to make healthy decisions when it comes to sex. You can get more info about Syphilis from the CDC website on STDs.
If you are sexually active and think you might need an appointment for STI/STD testing, we hope to see you. All of our services are confidential and provided at no cost to you. If you have questions about Syphilis, or our services for other STIs/STDs, feel free to leave a message in the comments below.
The content on this page has been reviewed and approved by our Medical Director.