What Is Syphilis?

Shot of Penicillin

Syphilis can be treated with a shot of penicillin

What Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that usually begins as a painless sore on your genitals, vagina, anus or inside the rectum. Syphilis spreads from person to person by direct contact with a sore. It’s quite common to have syphilis but not know you are infected with the sexually-transmitted disease. A large number of people with a syphilis infection don’t show any symptoms for years. What makes syphilis more difficult to detect is that its symptoms are so similar to the symptoms you would have with other diseases that syphilis is often overlooked as the potential cause of those symptoms.

Syphilis Stages

Syphilis progresses in stages. In the primary stage, a small, round painless sore appears, lasts from about three to six weeks and heals itself without treatment. If not treated, syphilis progresses to the secondary stage. In this stage, most people begin to develop a skin rash on the lower part of their body. Some people also develop fever, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. These symptoms will resolve on their own with or without treatment, but without treatment the disease progresses to the latent stage. In the latent stage, syphilis lies dormant. You are still infected with syphilis, but there are no signs or symptoms of syphilis. This can last for years. About 15 percent of people progress to the late stage of syphilis, which could occur 10 to 20 years after the initial infection. Late-stage syphilis can damage internal organs such as the brain, nerves, eyes, heart liver, bones and joints. Late stage syphilis symptoms include paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness and dementia. Late-stage syphilis can kill you.

Syphilis Cure

While syphilis is dangerous, it is also detectable, treatable and easy to cure in its early stages. A simple blood test can detect if you are infected with syphilis and a single shot of penicillin will cure syphilis if you’ve had it for less than a year. The longer you’ve had the disease, the more difficult it becomes to cure. Unfortunately you can’t reverse any damage that syphilis has done up to the point it’s cured.

Anonymous Syphilis Test

Everyone who is sexually active should be screened for syphilis. If you’ve already had syphilis, you can get it again by coming into contact with another syphilis sore. Know your status! If you believe you have symptoms that could be from a syphilis infection, you can avoid embarrassment with a private and confidential test for syphilis. Follow the instructions in our anonymous testing guide and get a truly anonymous syphilis test so you can catch it early and get treatment. For more information, refer to the CDC Fact Sheet for Syphilis.

Video — The Symptoms of Syphilis


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