What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it is not treated.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary). There are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage.

  • In the first stage, a painless sore called a chancre may be the only sign. It appears at the location where the syphilis germ entered the body. It is often on the penis or vagina; it can also show up on other parts of the body. Ex: fingertips, mouth, breasts or anus. The sores go away in a few weeks, the disease does not.

  • In the second stage, there may be other signs. Ex: a blotchy reddish brown rash on the hands or feet or over your whole body, headache, fever, sore throat, aches in the bones, hair loss and swollen joints. Again these symptoms will go away on their own but the person still has syphilis.

  • In its later stages, signs may go away, maybe disappear for years, but the person still has syphilis. If syphilis is left untreated, it can cause: arthritis, blindness, heart disease, mental illness, and death.

How do I get syphilis and is there a cure?

You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Because a sore is small and painless, it may be hard to see and easily mistaken for something else, especially if it is in the anus or vagina. You do not need to have vaginal, anal, or oral sex to get syphilis. It can be spread simply by close intimate contact (foreplay or bump and grind) if the sore comes in contact with a micro tear in the skin. Syphilis can spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby. Syphilis can also be spread by sharing needles for shooting drugs, body piercings or tattoos. Syphilis is not spread by everyday activities, such as sitting on toilet seats, using swimming pools or sharing food.

Syphilis is curable. Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics from your health care provider. However, treatment might not undo any damage that the infection has already done.