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What is syphilis? — Syphilis is an infection that you can catch during sex. Infections that you can catch during sex are called "sexually transmitted infections." It is also possible for a pregnant person to give syphilis to their baby.
Syphilis has different stages:
In some cases, the infection moves to the brain, ears, or eyes. This can happen in any of the stages of syphilis.
What are the symptoms of primary syphilis? — Primary syphilis is the first stage of infection. Symptoms start 2 to 3 weeks after the person becomes infected. At that time, the person usually gets a raised red bump on the spot where the infection first entered the body. This bump is usually painless. Eventually it turns into a small sore (or ulcer) with a raised edge.
The sores caused by syphilis usually form on the penis or around the vagina or anus. But they can also form in places that are hard to see, such as the back of the throat or inside the vagina or rectum.
Sores caused by primary syphilis usually heal on their own within a few weeks. Since they usually don't hurt, many people don't get treatment for them.
What are the symptoms of secondary syphilis? — Secondary syphilis is the second stage of infection. It starts weeks or a few months after primary syphilis and happens in about 25 percent of people who don't get treatment for their primary syphilis.
Symptoms of secondary syphilis include:
●A widespread rash
●Large, raised, gray or white patches on warm, moist areas of the body (such as the mouth and genitals)
●Sore throat, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms
●Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, and groin area (lymph nodes are bean-shaped organs scattered throughout the body that store infection-fighting cells)
What are the symptoms of latent syphilis? — Latent syphilis is a period of time when syphilis is not causing any symptoms. It is divided into:
●"Early latent" syphilis – This is when the person got infected within the last year.
●"Late latent" syphilis – This is when the person has been infected for more than a year.
Sometimes, a person might not know exactly when they got infected. People with latent syphilis can have the infection for years without knowing it.
What are the symptoms of tertiary syphilis? — People with tertiary syphilis usually develop symptoms years after getting infected. This happens in a small number of people who do not get treatment.
People with tertiary syphilis can have damage to the heart, skin, brain, and other organs.
What is neurosyphilis? — "Neurosyphilis" is the term for a syphilis infection that has moved into the brain, the spinal cord, or the tissues that surround both. Neurosyphilis can happen during any of the stages of syphilis. Symptoms of it include:
●Nausea and vomiting
If your doctor suspects you have neurosyphilis, you might need a test called a "lumbar puncture," sometimes called a "spinal tap." For this test, the doctor takes a small sample of fluid from the space around the spinal cord. Then the fluid is tested for the bacteria that cause syphilis.
What are ocular syphilis and otosyphilis? — "Ocular syphilis" is when the infection affects the eyes. "Otosyphilis" is when it affects the ears. If syphilis involves the eyes or ears, it can cause vision or hearing problems. This can happen in anyone with syphilis, but might be more common in people who also have HIV infection.
Is there a test for syphilis? — Yes. Your doctor can order blood tests to find out if you have syphilis.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — You should see a doctor or nurse if you have symptoms of syphilis, or if any of your sexual partners have been diagnosed with syphilis. Doctors also recommend that people who are at high risk for syphilis get tested regularly.
If you see a doctor or nurse to be checked for syphilis, they might want to test you for other sexually transmitted infections, too. That's because people who get one type of sexually transmitted infection are often at risk for other types.
Even if you have no symptoms, it's still possible that you could be infected. If you are infected, there are treatments to cure syphilis.
How is syphilis treated? — Syphilis is usually treated with an antibiotic called penicillin. The amount of time a person must take penicillin depends on what stage of infection they are in. Most people can get a penicillin shot, but some people need to get the medicine through a thin tube that goes into a vein, called an "IV." People who are allergic to penicillin usually get a different antibiotic.
After finishing treatment, most people need follow-up testing to make sure they are cured. Some people need to get multiple blood tests over a few years.
Can syphilis be prevented? — You can reduce your chances of getting syphilis by:
●Using a latex condom every time you have sex
●Avoiding sex when you or your partner has any symptoms that could be caused by an infection
●Not having sex
Patient education: Screening for sexually transmitted infections (The Basics)
Patient education: Chlamydia and gonorrhea (The Basics)
Patient education: Anogenital warts (The Basics)
Patient education: Genital herpes (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaginal discharge (The Basics)
Patient education: Barrier methods of birth control (The Basics)
Patient education: Care after sexual assault (The Basics)
Patient education: Preventing HIV after unprotected sex or needle-sharing (The Basics)
Patient education: Chlamydia (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Gonorrhea (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Genital warts in women (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Genital herpes (The Basics)
Patient education: Pubic lice (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Vaginal discharge in adult women (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Barrier and pericoital methods of birth control (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Care after sexual assault (Beyond the Basics)
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