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Syphilis

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Syphilis

What is syphilis?
How does someone get syphilis?
What are the risk factors for syphilis?
How can you protect yourself from getting syphilis?
What are some symptoms of syphilis?
Can infection with syphilis lead to other health problems?
What is the impact of syphilis on pregnancy?
How is syphilis diagnosed?
Is there a treatment or cure for syphilis?

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It is a complex disease that causes various symptoms at different stages of infection. If left untreated, syphilis can have many serious complications.

How does someone get syphilis?

Syphilis is transmitted through sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral) with an infected person. In particular, the syphilis bacterium is transmitted through direct contact with syphilis sores, which mainly occur in the genital area of both men and women. Because the sores are often painless, people may not know they are infected.

What are the risk factors for syphilis?

The primary risk factors for syphilis include:

  • Engaging in unsafe sex
  • Having sex with more than one partner
  • Being in a sexual relationship with someone who has multiple sex partners

How can you protect yourself from getting syphilis?

The chance of becoming infected with syphilis can be reduced by avoiding risky sexual behaviors.

To reduce your risk:

  • Use latex or polyurethane condoms during sex
  • Limit your number of sex partners

If you have recently been treated or are being treated for syphilis, you must make sure your sex partner(s) also receives treatment in order to prevent getting infected again. Sex partners should receive treatment even if they do not have any symptoms.

What are some symptoms of syphilis?

The first symptom of syphilis infection is usually a small painless sore (chancre) in the area of sexual contact (penis, vagina, anus, rectum, or mouth). The sore usually appears about 2-6 weeks after exposure and disappears within a few weeks. Shortly after the sore heals, a rash all over the body (including the palms of hands and soles of the feet), swollen lymph nodes, fever, or tiredness may be noticed. These symptoms also disappear within a few weeks. Even though the initial symptoms of syphilis clear up on their own, the syphilis bacterium will remain in the body if not treated.

Can infection with syphilis lead to other health problems?

Syphilis is a very serious infection for both men and women. It spreads through the whole body. Without proper antibiotic treatment, the disease can cause heart disease, dementia, blindness, paralysis, and death. Infection with syphilis increases the risk for transmitting or acquiring HIV infection.

What is the impact of syphilis on pregnancy?

Syphilis can be passed from mother to infant before birth--resulting in congenital syphilis. Babies with congenital syphilis may suffer from blindness, other severe organ damage, and death.

How is syphilis diagnosed?

Syphilis can be diagnosed in several ways. A sample from a syphilis sore can be examined under a microscope. In addition, a blood test can be used to diagnose syphilis.

Is there a treatment or cure for syphilis?

Syphilis is treated and cured with the antibiotic penicillin. People who have had syphilis for less than one year can be cured with one dose of penicillin. For people who have had syphilis longer, more doses of penicillin are required.

It is important to make sure your sex partner(s) also receives treatment in order to prevent getting infected again. Avoid having sex while being treated to reduce the chances of getting the infection again or transmitting it to someone else.



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