Syphilis is a bacterial STI that occurs in several stages. The later stages are much more serious than the earlier stages.
Syphilis is spread through blood, vaginal fluids, semen, and skin-to-skin contact with open sores caused by the bacteria. People get syphilis through vaginal and anal sex without a condom or dental dam, through contact with an open sore, or through direct blood exchange like sharing used needles.
Symptoms and complications
Syphilis is a multi-phase infection that often seems like it’s going away when it’s not! Symptoms can vary depending on the person.
Phase 1: Occurs 10-90 days after infection. A painless sore appears wherever the person was exposed to the bacteria (typically in/around the vagina, penis, anus, mouth). This phase heals on its own in 3-6 weeks.
Phase 2: A rash appears on the body after phase one. The rash is typically on the palms of the hands or bottoms of the feet. It can be accompanied by fever, weight loss, hair loss, sore throat, headache or swollen lymph nodes. This phase heals on its own in 2-6 weeks.
Phase 3-4: If undetected and untreated, syphilis can progress over many years (sometimes decades) and lead to something called neurosyphilis. This is a very serious condition that can cause things like brain damage, paralysis, and blindness.
If you are thinking about becoming sexually active or already are, it’s very important to get tested. Testing for syphilis is not as common as other tests because the infection is less prevalent. Syphilis is detected through a blood test. If you think you might be at risk for syphilis, be sure to request this test at Teen Clinic or with another medical provider.
Syphilis is curable and treatable with antibiotics before phase three. It’s important to finish the entire course of medication, even if symptoms subside. Late-stage syphilis is much more complicated to treat because of its effects on the nervous system.