Written by Advice & Aid Nurse Andrea, RN, BSN
What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a specific type of bacteria. If not treated promptly and correctly, syphilis can cause long-term complications.
What does syphilis look like?
Syphilis has been called the ‘great imitator’ because it has so many possible symptoms, many of which look like symptoms from other diseases. The painless syphilis sore that you would get after you are first infected can be confused for an ingrown hair, zipper cut, or other seemingly harmless bump. The non-itch body rash that develops during the second stage of syphilis can show up on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, all over your body, or in just a few places. Syphilis can also affect the eyes and lead to permanent blindness. This is called ocular syphilis. You could also get syphilis and have very mild symptoms to none at all.
How is syphilis spread?
You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during any type of sex. Sores can be found on any of the sexual organs, or even on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby.
How can I reduce my risk of getting syphilis?
The only way to completely and 100% avoid an STD is to not have sex.
However, if you are sexually active, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting syphilis:
*Being in a long-term monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results.
*Using latex condoms the correct way every time you have sex. Condoms can prevent transmission of syphilis by preventing contact with a sore; however, sometimes sores occur in areas not covered by a condom. Contact with these sores can still transmit syphilis. Using a condom does not guarantee prevention of syphilis or other STDs, nor does it always prevent pregnancy.
How do I know if I have syphilis?
Most of the time, a blood test can be used to test for syphilis. Some health care providers will diagnose syphilis by testing fluid from a sore.
Can syphilis be cured?
Yes, syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics from your health care provider. However, treatment will not undo any damage that the infection has already done.
I’ve been treated. Can I get syphilis again?
Yes. Having syphilis once does not protect you from getting it again. Even after you have been successfully treated, you can still be re-infected. Only laboratory tests can confirm whether you have syphilis. Follow-up testing by your health care provider is recommended to make sure that your treatment was successful.
I’m pregnant. How does syphilis affect my baby?
If you are pregnant and have syphilis, you can give the infection to your unborn baby. Having syphilis can lead to a low birth weight baby. It can also make it more likely you will deliver your baby too early or still born (a baby born dead). To protect your baby, you should be tested for syphilis during your pregnancy and at delivery and receive immediate treatment if you test positive. Untreated babies can have health problems such as cataracts, deafness, seizures or even death
Take care of your health and protect yourself from syphilis and other STDs. Seek testing and treatment if needed.
For more information, visit:
Additional articles about STIs/STDs:
An Honest Conversation About the STI Trichomoniasis
What You Really Need to Know About Gonorrhea
Avoiding an Embarrassing Condition (Chlamydia)
What You Need to Know About HPV
If you (or someone you know) suspects that you might have contracted and STD, you should contact your doctor immediately for an appointment.
However, if you are not ready to talk to a doctor, it could be helpful to discuss your symptoms, concerns and options in a confidential and helpful setting with someone who has answers. Feel free to schedule a no-pressure appointment with us where you can speak with someone who will help you determine your next steps. Our staff is compassionate, knowledgeable and can offer the support and direction that you need.