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Syphilis in Women

Syphilis Facts

Patient Comments
  • Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by sexual contact.
  • Condoms do not always necessarily prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
  • The scientific name for the syphilis organism is Treponema pallidum.
  • Early syphilis causes a mouth or genital ulcer (chancre). This is the hallmark sisgn of the first stage.
  • Later stages of syphilis can cause hair loss, headaches, sore throat, and skin rash. Eventually, syphilis can lead to heart and brain damage.
  • The standard screening blood tests for syphilis are called the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) and Rapid Plasminogen Reagent (RPR) tests. These detect the response to infection.
  • Any positive VDRL or RPR test must be confirmed by a test specific for the organism causing syphilis, such as the microhemagglutination assay for T. pallidum (MHA-TP) and the fluorescent treponemal antibody absorbed test (FTA-ABS). Syphilis is treated with antibiotics.
  • Women who are infected during pregnancy can pass on the infection to the fetus through the placenta.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Overview

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that can be transferred from one person to another through any type of sexual contact. STDs are sometimes referred to as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) since they involve the transmission of a disease-causing organism from one person to another during sexual activity. It is important to realize that sexual contact includes more than just sexual intercourse (vaginal and anal). Sexual contact includes kissing, oral-genital contact, and the use of sexual "toys," such as vibrators. STDs have been around for thousands of years, but the most dangerous of these conditions, the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), has only been recognized since 1981, with the causative virus first identified in 1984.

Many STDs are treatable, but effective cures are lacking for others, such as HIVHPV, and hepatitis B. Even gonorrhea, once easily cured, has become resistant to many of the older traditional antibiotics. Many STDs can be present in, and spread by, people who do not have any symptoms of the condition and have not yet been diagnosed with an STD. Therefore, public awareness and education about these infections and the methods of preventing them is important.

There really is no such thing as "safe" sex. The only truly effective way to prevent STDs is abstinence. Sex in the context of a monogamous relationship wherein neither party is infected with a STD also is considered "safe." Most people think that kissing is a safe activity. Unfortunately, syphilis, herpes, and other infections can be contracted through this relatively simple act. All other forms of sexual contact carry some risk. Condoms are commonly thought to protect against STDs. Condoms are useful in decreasing the spread of certain infections, such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea; however, they do not fully protect against other infections such as genital herpes, warts, syphilis, and AIDS. Prevention of the spread of STDs is dependent upon the counseling of at-risk individuals and the early diagnosis and treatment of infections.

Picture of syphilis
Picture of syphilis

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/18/2016

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The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Syphilis in Women:

Syphilis in Women - Symptoms

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Syphilis in Women - Facts

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Syphilis in Women - Treatment

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Syphilis in Women - Diagnosis

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Syphilis Symptoms

What are the Stages of Syphilis Symptoms?

Syphilis may progress through 3 distinct stages. Sometimes not all 3 may be evident.

  • Primary phase: The primary phase usually starts with a sore at the site of infection.
  • Secondary phase: The secondary phase may develop 4-10 weeks after the chancre.
  • Latent (dormant) phase: The early latent phase (first 12 months following infection) is characterized by an absence of symptoms.
  • Tertiary Phase: About a third of people with latent syphilis will progress after many years (or decades) into tertiary syphilis.


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