Updated: Jan 23
What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is contracted mainly through sexual intercourse.
While syphilis is considered rare, it is still very important.
There are fewer than 20,000 US cases of syphilis per year. The highest rates are among women of the ages of 20-24 and those aged 25 - 29.
Syphilis is treatable.
Syphilis is treatable with the right antibiotics from your healthcare provider.
How is syphilis spread?
Syphilis can be spread when there is direct contact with a syphilis sore.
This can happen during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. You can find these sores on or around the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth. It can spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby as well. Although it isn’t common, you can also receive this non-sexually in communities living under poor hygiene conditions.
What are the symptoms?
There are four stages to Syphilis: Primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary syphilis.
Generally, there is a sore or multiple sores at the original site of the infection. These sores are most commonly found on or around the genitals, anus, rectum, and mouth. They are also usually, but not always, firm, round, and painless.
This can include a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fevers. The signs of primary and secondary syphilis can be mild and might not be noticed.
This stage has no signs or even symptoms. It's also called the hidden stage. It can last for years, and you can still transmit syphilis during this period.
This is associated with severe medical problems. A doctor can usually diagnose tertiary syphilis with the help of multiple tests. It can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body.
How does testing work?
Testing for syphilis is a little different from other bacterial STIs.
To test for syphilis, your doctor will take a small blood sample rather than a urine sample.
It's important to get tested regularly. If you're sexually active, this means at least once per year. Even if you or your partner don't show symptoms, you should follow this general rule of thumb.
If left untreated for too long, syphilis can attack your heart, brain, eyes, and other organs. It could also not show up for years and could even possibly kill you. If you're pregnant, you could also pass it to your baby. So, do you and your partner a HUGE favor and put your minds at ease.
What if I have it?
So, your results came back positive.
The first thing to remember is that this is nothing to be ashamed of. If you or your partner have syphilis, it does not necessarily mean anyone cheated. Test results may not detect the infection until well after contracting it.
How do I get rid of it?
Syphilis is easily treatable with the correct antibiotics from your health care provider when diagnosed in its early stages. The preferred treatment at all stages is penicillin. However, if you’re allergic to penicillin, your doctor may suggest a different antibiotic or can recommend penicillin desensitization.
Even if you seek treatment, it does NOT mean it will undo any harm or damage already done by this infection.
In order to see if the treatment is working, you may have to take periodic blood tests. It is suggested that you get tested for HIV as well. This is because you have a higher chance of contracting HIV if you test positive for syphilis. If you have both HIV and syphilis, you can spread both of them more easily. Often, your doctor may give you medicine for both you and your partner(s). It is important that BOTH of you finish your treatment and don't have any sexual contact until your sores are healed.
For real, getting frisky can wait.
If you don't take your antibiotics all the way through, you run the risk of re-infecting your partner or other people. Willingly risking you or your partner's sexual health isn't sexy. Peace of mind is sexy. Always make sure to listen to your doctor to effectively get rid of syphilis.