What Is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a curable bacterial infection. This disease spreads when someone comes in contact with a syphilis sore, usually during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. This condition goes through 3 distinct stages.
Syphilis Symptoms at Each Stage
Symptoms include sores in or on the genitals, rectum or mouth. These sores are hard, round, and painless. They may be light in the center with a red ring around them. In some cases, they become ulcers. You are highly contagious during the primary and secondary stages.
Symptoms include an itchless and often faint skin rash in one or several places other than your genitals, rectum, or mouth. The rash is often on the palms or bottoms of feet. You may develop more sores. But these often start to heal while the rash becomes larger.
As your immune system fights the bacteria, you may have swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, and flu-like symptoms.
Note: These symptoms will stop even if you receive no treatment. This doesn’t mean you’re cured. During the latent stage, symptoms stop.
Think of this like a bear hibernating. The disease can sleep for a decade or more.
Symptoms include signs of organ damage and failure. Many organs can experience the effects. Your heart, brain, and blood vessels stop working. This is when body parts may lose blood flow and fall off. Yes, you read that right—fall off. You don’t want to take a syphilis diagnosis lightly.
Fact or Myth: Getting Syphilis from Toilet Seats or Kissing
You can get or transmit syphilis through kissing if one of you has a sore. It’s not transmitted through casual contact like sharing a hot tub, touching doorknobs, or sitting on the toilet seat.
Risks & Dangers
Untreated, it can cause organ failure, blindness, other serious medical complications, and death. A parent can also pass it to their baby during birth and may experience infertility.
Those with HIV, men who have sex with men, those with multiple sexual partners, and those who’ve been in prison have increased risk.
Statistics to Know
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a 70% increase in syphilis diagnoses since 2015. In 2019, the US had 129,000 reported cases.
In the US, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia cost insurers, individuals, and the government $1.1 billion to treat each year.
Screening & Testing
While anyone sexually active can get syphilis, it often happens during a local outbreak. Current recommendations for screening state that only those with increased risk or who are pregnant require screening.
Men who have sex with men and those with HIV should request a screening test at least annually. If you have multiple risk factors, consider testing every 3 to 6 months.
If you experience symptoms of syphilis or believe you’ve had sexual contact with someone who has it, consider getting tested.
In Colorado, you can order a syphilis test online without a provider’s order. You can also get a screening test for 10 common diseases in a 10-STD panel. Learn more about ordering your own STD testing online.
Is Syphilis Curable or Treatable?
Syphilis is very curable with antibiotics during the primary, secondary, and early latent (sleeping) stages. If it advances to the late latent stage, when the disease is preparing to wreak havoc on your body, only a powerful course of antibiotics may be able to cure it. During the final tertiary stage, the cure is still possible, as well as treatment to prevent further medical complications. However, some permanent damage will occur.