Syphilis (caused by Treponema pallidum, a bacteria)
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Signs, Symptoms and Stages
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
- No sores or rashes, but syphilis is still in the blood and can affect the heart, brain and other organs over time (tertiary syphilis)
Syphilis is spread by:
- Vaginal sex
- Oral sex
- Anal sex
- Infected mother to newborn
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
- 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, HIV and TB Section
Minnesota Department of Health
Minnesota Family Planning
and STD Hotline
1-800-783-2287 Voice/TTY; (651) 645-9360 (Metro)
CDC National STD and AIDS Hotlines
1-800-CDC-INFO; 1-888-232-6348 TTY
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