What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria. Any sexual skin-on-skin contact with someone who has infectious syphilis can result in transmission.
The first sign of infection takes the form of a sore that appears on the body part that came in contact with the infection. Since the sore is usually painless, it can go unnoticed especially if it appears inside the mouth, anus, or vagina. If left untreated, the sore may last for several weeks then eventually disappear. However, a rash may appear on the hands, feet, torso, or other part of the body.
The symptoms of syphilis will eventually go away, yet if left untreated the bacteria remain active in the body and can lead to serious health problems, including blindness and dementia.
It’s possible for someone to have syphilis for years and not know it. The only way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested.
How can I prevent syphilis?
Since the sore caused by syphilis is usually painless and perhaps not visible, it’s possible that neither you nor your partner would notice it.
Condoms are a good method of protection against syphilis (and other STDs), but they aren’t a surefire solution since a condom can’t cover everything. That’s why it’s important to get tested regularly for syphilis even if you use condoms—and especially if you have any sexual skin-on-skin contact involving the penis, scrotum, anus, mouth, or vagina.
Testing and treatment
A simple blood test can detect syphilis. Your doctor may also examine you for sores or rashes.
An antibiotic injection can cure syphilis, but it won’t prevent you from getting syphilis again in the future, so be sure to use condoms and be sure to get tested often. In some cases, antibiotics cannot reverse any complications, such as heart damage, that syphilis may have caused.
Tell your doctor if you’ve had sex with someone who was recently diagnosed with active syphilis. If you’ve been exposed to syphilis within the last three months, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics regardless of your test results.
Do you need help getting treatment or telling partners they might have syphilis? The Partner Services Program (PSP) helps people diagnosed with HIV and STDs get treatment, notify partners, and even help partners get testing and medical care. To learn more, visit the PSP site or call (617) 983-6999.