Sexually Transmitted Disease Facts

Syphilis (caused by Treponema pallidum, a bacteria)

On this page:
Signs and Symptoms
Transmission
Complications
Prevention
Testing and Treatment
For More Information

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Signs and Symptoms

1st stage (primary syphilis)

  • Symptoms begin 1-12 weeks after exposure
  • A painless, open sore(s) on the mouth, genitals or anus
  • Sore(s) can be “hidden” in the vagina or rectum
  • Sore(s) last 1-5 weeks
  • Sore(s) goes away, but syphilis is still in the blood

2nd stage (secondary syphilis)

  • Symptoms show up 6 weeks to 6 months after sore appears
  • A rash anywhere on the body
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Whitish-grey patches on mouth/lips, wart-like lesions around genitals, and/or hair loss can occur but are less common

Latent stage

  • No sores or rashes, but syphilis is still in the blood and can affect the heart, brain and other organs over time (tertiary syphilis)

Transmission

Syphilis is spread by:

  • Vaginal sex
  • Oral sex
  • Anal sex
  • Infected mother to newborn

Complications

If Left Untreated, Syphilis Can Cause:

  • Spread to sex partners
  • Cause heart disease
  • Cause blindness
  • Cause brain damage
  • Make it easier to transmit or acquire HIV during sex

Syphilis During Pregnancy May Cause:

  • Stillbirths in pregnant women
  • Congenital birth defects
  • Severe damage to bones, brain, lungs, liver and other organs in infected infants

Prevention

  • Avoiding vaginal, oral or anal sex is the best way to prevent STDs.
  • Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of syphilis only when the infected areas are covered or protected by the condom.
  • Always use latex condoms during vaginal and anal sex.
  • Use a latex condom for oral sex on a penis.
  • Use a latex barrier (dental dam or condom cut in half) for oral sex on a vagina or anus.
  • Limit the number of sex partners.
  • Notify sex partners immediately if infected.
  • Make sure partners are tested and treated.

Testing and Treatment

  • Get a test from a medical provider if infection is suspected.
  • Syphilis can be cured using medication prescribed by medical provider.
  • Partners should be treated at same time.

 NOTE: A person can be re-infected after treatment.

For more information, contact:

STD and HIV Section
Minnesota Department of Health
(651) 201-5414

Minnesota Family Planning and STD Hotline Attention: Non-MDH link
1-800-783-2287 Voice/TTY; (651) 645-9360 (Metro)

American Social Health Association (ASHA)
Attention: Non-MDH link

CDC National STD and AIDS Hotlines
Attention: Non-MDH link

1-800-CDC-INFO; 1-888-232-6348 TTY
1-800-344-7432 (Spanish)

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Updated Tuesday, 26-Mar-2013 13:58:55 CDT