Syphilis

What is it?

  • Sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria (Treponema pallidum).
  • Can spread to all organs of the body after it enters the blood.

 

How is it spread?

  • “Skin-to-skin contact” from sores/ulcers or infected skin that looks normal during oral, vaginal or butt sex.
  • Because syphilis is passed through skin-to-skin contact, it can also be passed through foreplay, rubbing, masturbation (self or with partner) or touching.
  • Penetration is not necessary to transmit syphilis.
  • Can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her unborn child (congenital syphilis) at any stage of syphilis.

 

How long after infection would I see symptoms?

  • A syphilis sore shows up around 3 weeks after infection, but it can take anywhere from 10 and 90 days to appear.
  • Many people may not notice the initial sign or have no signs or symptoms at all.

What are the symptoms?

When syphilis is not treated, it can cause many symptoms and medical conditions in your body.

  • Primary Syphilis:
    • Painless sore (called a chancre) appears at the place where the bacteria entered the body.
    • Highly contagious by direct contact.
    • Will go away on its own (even without treatment) after several weeks but the infection will still progress.
  • Secondary Syphilis
    • Rash on the body, palms of the hands and soles of the feet;
    • hair loss;
    • sore throat;
    • wart-like growths on the genitals; and
    • lesions in the mouth or in other areas with a mucous membrane.
    • symptoms will go away on their own without treatment but the infection will still progress.
  • Latent Syphilis
    • Secondary syphilis symptoms may occur again.
    • Symptoms will go away without treatment but the infection will still progress.
  • Tertiary Syphilis
    • Can occur many years after signs of secondary syphilis.
    • Symptoms include: difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, blindness, dementia and death.
  • Complications of syphilis that can occur at any stage include:
    • Neurosyphilis: when syphilis infects the brain
    • Ocular syphilis: when syphilis infects the eyes causing trouble seeing or blindness
  • Congenital Syphilis:
    • Stillbirth (baby born dead)
    • Nasal discharge from baby’s nose (“snuffles”). This mucus contains the bacteria itself and is very contagious
    • Rashes and skin sores
    • Permanent brain and nerve damage, bone deformities

 

What’s the treatment?

  • Antibiotics

 

How often should I be tested?

  • When and how often to get tested is up to you. You may decide to get tested every 3 months, 6 months or 12 months.
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and LA county recommend the following testing schedule for syphilis:
    • Pregnant women: at first prenatal visit, during their third trimester, and at delivery
    • Men who have sex with men (MSM): every year
      • For those with anonymous sex partners, multiple sex partners, or those who use drugs: every 3 – 6 months

 

Where can I get tested?

 

How to prevent?

  • Abstinence
  • Harm reduction
    • Monogamous relationship
    • Using barriers such as:
      • Male condom
      • Female condom
      • Dental dams
      • Finger condom or cot
      • Lubricants

 

Where can I find more information?

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website
https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm