What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a common bacterial infection that’s spread through sex. Syphilis is easily cured with antibiotic medicine, but it can cause permanent damage if you don’t get treated.
Syphilis is serious — but it can be cured.
Syphilis is a really common STD. Syphilis is spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
Syphilis causes sores on your genitals (called chancres). The sores are usually painless, but they can easily spread the infection to other people. You get syphilis from contact with the sores. A lot of people with syphilis don’t notice the sores and feel totally fine, so they might not know they have it.
Syphilis can infect your vagina, anus, penis, or scrotum, and sometimes your lips and mouth. You can help prevent syphilis by using condoms and/or dental dams every time you have sex.
Syphilis can be easily cured with medication if you treat it early. But without treatment, it leads to really serious, permanent problems like brain damage, paralysis, and blindness. That’s why STD testing is so important — the sooner you know you have syphilis, the faster you can get rid of it.
How do you get syphilis?
Syphilis is spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. You get it when your vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or mouth touches someone’s syphilis sores — usually during sex. Syphilis can be spread even if no one cums.
The main ways people get syphilis are from having vaginal sex and anal sex. It’s less common to get it from having oral sex, but it can happen. A mother can also pass syphilis to a baby during pregnancy and childbirth, which can be dangerous.
Syphilis is very easy to give to other people in the beginning, when there are sores. But lots of people don’t even know they have syphilis because they don’t notice the sores. Using condoms every time you have sex is one of the best ways to help prevent syphilis — even if you and your partner seem totally healthy.
Syphilis isn’t spread through casual contact, so you CAN’T get it from sharing food or drinks, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, sharing towels, or sitting on toilet seats.
What are the symptoms of syphilis?
Syphilis symptoms can be hard to notice, and come and go over time. So the best way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested.
You might not notice any signs of syphilis.
Syphilis is sneaky, because you or your partner may not have any symptoms that you see or feel. Most of the time, people don’t even realize they have syphilis — that’s part of the reason it’s a common infection (and why it’s so important to get tested).
The signs of syphilis can be so mild you don’t even notice them. Sometimes people confuse syphilis symptoms with other things, like pimples or rashes. Syphilis symptoms come and go over time, but that doesn’t mean the infection goes away. The ONLY way to get rid of syphilis is to take medicine for it.
Syphilis leads to serious problems if you don’t treat it. But it’s usually easy to cure it with antibiotics when you treat it early. That’s why regular STD testing is so important if you have sex, no matter how healthy you seem.
Syphilis can be kind of confusing because there are a few different stages, and they can overlap or happen around the same time. And there may be times when you have no symptoms at all — but the infection will still be there until you get it treated. Symptoms can vary with each stage, and they might not always happen in the same order for everyone.
A syphilis sore (called a chancre) pops up — that sore is where the syphilis infection entered your body. Chancres are usually firm, round, and painless, or sometimes open and wet. There’s often only 1 sore, but you may have more.
Chancres can show up on your vulva, vagina, anus, penis, scrotum, and rarely, your lips or mouth. The sores may also hide deep in your vagina, under your foreskin, inside your rectum, and other places that are hard to see.
Syphilis sores are SUPER contagious and easily pass the infection to other people during sex. It’s easy to mistake a chancre for an ingrown hair, pimple, or harmless bump. And because the sores aren’t painful and can live in hidden places, you may not notice them.
Chancres typically show up anywhere between 3 weeks and 3 months after you get the infection. The sores usually last about 3 to 6 weeks and then go away on their own — with or without treatment. But if you don’t get treated, you still have syphilis, even if the sores are gone. You have to take medication to cure syphilis and stop it from moving to the next stage.
Secondary stage symptoms include rashes on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, or other parts of your body. The secondary syphilis rash is sometimes hard to see, and it usually doesn’t itch. You may feel sick and have mild flu-like symptoms, like a slight fever, feeling tired, sore throat, swollen glands, headache, and muscle aches. You can also have sores in your mouth, vagina, or anus, and weight or hair loss.
Secondary stage symptoms (syphilis rash) can last 2 to 6 weeks at a time, and may come and go for up to 2 years. They’re similar to other common illnesses, so it can be hard to tell it’s syphilis. The symptoms from this stage will go away by themselves with or without treatment. But unless you get treated for syphilis, you’ll still have the infection in your body and it can move into the dangerous later stages. That’s why STD testing is so important.
In between the secondary stage and the late stage, there may be times when your syphilis infection is latent (there are no signs or symptoms at all) for months or even years — but you still need treatment to get rid of it. People who have had syphilis for a long time face serious health problems. Late stages of syphilis can cause tumors, blindness, and paralysis. It can damage your nervous system, brain and other organs, and may even kill you.
Syphilis is easily curable with antibiotics in the early stages. If you get treatment late, it will still cure the infection and stop future damage to your body. But the damage that late stage syphilis has already caused can’t be changed or healed. The complications from late stage syphilis can happen 10-20 years after you first get infected.
Should I get tested for syphilis?
Getting tested is the only way to know for sure if you have syphilis. You should get tested if you or your partner has signs of syphilis, or if you’ve had unprotected sex.
How do I know if I have syphilis?
You can’t tell for sure if you have syphilis just by the way you feel. Like all STDs, the only way to know is to get tested.
If you notice a sore on your genitals or you’re showing any other signs of syphilis, get checked out by a nurse or doctor. Testing is also a good idea if you’ve had unprotected sex or if someone you’ve had sex with has syphilis (even if you don’t notice symptoms). If you’re pregnant, your doctor might recommend that you get tested for syphilis.
In general, people who are sexually active should get tested for STDs about once a year. You can ask your nurse or doctor if you should be tested for syphilis. The best part about getting tested for STDs. Once you get it over with, it can really put your mind at ease. And if you DO have syphilis, it’s best to know right away so you can get medicine and get it cleared up as soon as possible.
What happens during a syphilis test?
You can get tested for syphilis whether or not you have any sores or symptoms. Usually, your nurse or doctor will take a quick blood sample to test you for syphilis. If you have open sores, they may gently take a sample of fluid from the sore with a swab and test it.
The idea of getting tested may seem scary but try to chill out. STD testing is a regular part of being a responsible adult and taking care of your health. The good news is syphilis is totally curable with antibiotics — so the sooner you know you have it, the faster you can get rid of it.
Where can I get tested for syphilis?
You can get tested for syphilis and other STDs at your doctor’s office, a community health clinic, the health department, or your local Planned Parenthood health center.
STD testing isn’t always part of your regular checkup or gynecologist exam — you may have to ask for it. Be open and honest with your nurse or doctor so they can help you figure out which tests are best for you. Don’t be embarrassed: your doctor is there to help you, not to judge.
How do I get treated for syphilis?
Syphilis can be easily cured with antibiotics. Your sexual partners need to be treated, too. If you don’t treat syphilis, it can lead to very serious health problems.
What is the treatment for syphilis?
Syphilis is usually super easy to get rid of in the early stages. Your nurse or doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection — usually penicillin, unless you’re allergic or can’t take it for other reasons.
If you’re having syphilis treatment, it’s really important for your sexual partners to get treated also. Otherwise, you may pass the infection back and forth, or to other people.
What do I need to know if I get treated for syphilis?
If you’re getting treated for syphilis:
Take all of your medicine the way your doctor tells you to, even if your symptoms go away sooner.
Your partner(s) should also get tested and treated for syphilis, so you don’t re-infect each other or anyone else.
Don’t have any kind of sex (vaginal, anal, oral) until you and your partners have finished your treatments, and any sores are totally healed.
Don’t share your medicine with anyone. If your partner needs treatment, you should each get your own separate doses of antibiotics. Make sure you both take all of the medicine prescribed to you.
Even if you finish your treatment and the syphilis is totally gone, it’s still possible to get a new syphilis infection again if you’re exposed in the future. Syphilis isn’t a one-time-only deal. So, use condoms and/or dental dams and get tested regularly.
What happens if I don’t get treated for syphilis?
Even though syphilis is common and has mild symptoms in the beginning, it can become a really big deal if it’s not treated. You can also easily pass it to other people.
Syphilis is easily cured in the early stages. But if you don’t treat syphilis early on, it can get worse and do serious harm to your body in the future. Late stage syphilis can lead to health problems that can’t be reversed or healed, like blindness or paralysis.
Syphilis can also cause problems if you’re pregnant. Syphilis can be passed to your fetus during pregnancy or to your baby at birth. This is called congenital syphilis, and it’s very dangerous. Congenital syphilis can lead to stillbirth, birth defects, or infant death. You should be tested for syphilis if you’re pregnant to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Having syphilis also increases your chances of getting or spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
How is syphilis prevented?
Syphilis is spread through sexual contact. So the best way to prevent syphilis is to get tested regularly and use condoms and/or dental dams if you have sex.
How do I avoid getting syphilis?
Syphilis is spread from sexual contact with someone who has it. It can be passed even if no one cums. Syphilis is spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
So, the best way to avoid syphilis and other STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex at all. But most people have sex at some point in their lives, so knowing how to have safer sex is important. Using protection when you have sex really helps to lower your chances of getting an STD.
Getting tested for STDs regularly is another important way to keep yourself healthy.
How can I make sure I don’t give anyone syphilis?
If you find out that you have syphilis, don’t panic. Syphilis is easily cured, and there are a few ways to make sure you don’t give it to other people.
Tell your past and present sexual partners that you have syphilis, so they can get tested and treated too.
Don't have sex with ANYONE until you’ve totally finished your treatment and your syphilis sores are completely healed.
Your sex partners should also be treated before they have sex with anyone again, including you.
Once you’ve finished your treatment and start having sex again, use condoms every single time you have sex.
Telling someone you have an STD isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. But syphilis is really, REALLY common and can be easily cured, so try not to be too embarrassed or stressed out about it. Once you get the conversation over with, you can both get treated and get on with your lives.