What is syphilis?
The infection can be active at times and not active at other times. When the infection is active, you have symptoms. When it's not active, you don't have symptoms, even though you still have syphilis. But even when you don't have symptoms, you can pass syphilis to others.
You don't have to have sexual intercourse to get syphilis. Just being in close contact with an infected person's genitals, mouth, or rectum is enough to expose you to the infection.
What causes syphilis?
Bacteria cause syphilis. They usually enter the body through the tissues that line the throat, nose, rectum, and vagina. A person with syphilis who has a sore or a rash can pass the infection to others. An infected pregnant woman can also pass syphilis to her baby.
Some things increase your chance of getting syphilis. They include:
What are the symptoms?
You may not notice symptoms of syphilis. Sometimes they are the same as symptoms for other infections. This can cause someone with the infection to put off seeing a doctor. And it can make it harder for a doctor to tell if you have syphilis.
The four stages of syphilis have different symptoms.
How is syphilis diagnosed?
If you have sores, bumps, a rash, blisters, or warts on or around your genital or anal area, or if you think you were exposed to an STI, see your doctor.
He or she will do a physical exam and will ask you about your symptoms and your sexual history. You will probably have one or more blood tests to check for the infection. Because the open sores from syphilis make HIV infection more likely, you may also be tested for HIV.
To prevent babies from getting syphilis, experts recommend that all pregnant women have a syphilis blood test.
How is it treated?
Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. Both you and any sex partners that you may have exposed to the infection will need to be treated.
It is important to know that syphilis is not a infection that you can treat on your own. It must be treated with medicine that only your doctor can give you. With treatment, you avoid other serious health problems. And treatment keeps you from spreading syphilis to others.
If a woman is pregnant and has untreated syphilis, it can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. It can also cause the baby to be born with the infection. This is called congenital syphilis.
At any stage of the infection, antibiotics work well to cure syphilis. They can't undo the damage already caused by late-stage syphilis. But they can help you avoid further problems from the infection.
How can you prevent syphilis?
There are some things you can do to prevent syphilis. Whether you have never had the infection or if you have had it before and are trying to keep from getting it again, it is important to practice safer sex. Safer sex includes using condoms and using them correctly.
Frequently Asked Questions
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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