General information about syphilis, including fact sheets, symptoms, complications, and treatment.
What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can have very serious complications when left untreated, but it is simple to cure with the right treatment.
Symptoms and stages
Syphilis is called “the great imitator” because so many signs and symptoms are similar to other diseases. A person can have syphilis and not know it.
Symptoms of syphilis in adults can be divided into stages:
- 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
- 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 and late stages
- No sores or rashes, but syphilis is still in the blood and can affect the heart, brain and other organs over time (tertiary syphilis)
Who is at highest risk?
Syphilis occurs worldwide, most commonly in urban areas.
The number of cases is rising fastest in:
- Men who have sex with men
- Young adults ages 15 to 25
- People who exchange sex for drugs or money
- American Indians and African Americans
Your risk of syphilis increases if you:
- Have unprotected sex (do not use condoms or do not use them correctly).
- Have multiple sex partners.
- Have a sex partner who has syphilis.
- Have sex with a partner who has multiple sex partners.
Syphilis in specific populations
Syphilis in Pregnancy and Congenital Syphilis
Information for health professionals on working with pregnant people.
- Congenital Syphilis - CDC Fact Sheet
Recently, there has been a sharp increase in the number of babies born with syphilis in the United States. Protect your baby from congenital syphilis by getting tested for syphilis during your pregnancy.
Syphilis and Women Fact Sheet (PDF)
Fact sheet answering frequently asked questions about syphilis and women.
Syphilis & MSM (Men Who Have Sex With Men) - CDC Fact Sheet
Important information about syphilis for gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM).
- Syphilis can be cured if it is diagnosed early and treated with prescription medication.
- However, while treatment will prevent further damage, it will not repair damage already caused by late stage syphilis.
- Untreated syphilis can be fatal.
- Syphilis greatly increases the chance of HIV transmission.
- People living with HIV may develop neurosyphilis faster than those who are negative.
- In addition, untreated syphilis during pregnancy may spread to the developing baby. This is called congenital syphilis.
- Syphilis is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore.
- Transmission occurs during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- Pregnant women with the disease can pass it to the babies they are carrying.
- Syphilis cannot be spread through contact with toilet seats, swimming pools, hot tubs, bath tubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils.
Syphilis prevention methods can greatly reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of transmission. Any sexually active person can get syphilis through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- 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 condoms during vaginal and anal sex.
- Use a condom for oral sex on a penis.
- Use a barrier (dental dam or condom cut in half) for oral sex on a vagina or anus.
- CDC Condom Locator
Search by zip code to find free or low-cost condoms near you.
- Get a test from a medical provider if infection is suspected.
- Syphilis can be cured using medication prescribed by a medical provider.
- Partners should be treated at the same time.
- STD Testing
Find free or low-cost testing near you.
- All pregnant people should be screened 2-3 times during pregnancy.
Minnesota Women, Syphilis is on the rise: Get Tested (pregnancy card) (PDF)
This 5.5" x 8.5" card reminds pregnant women to get tested for syphilis.
Always notify sex partners immediately if you are find out you have syphilis or another STD. It is important to make sure all partners are tested and treated.
- STD/HIV Partner Services Program
The Partner Services Program offers people who have been diagnosed with HIV or an STD free medical, prevention, and other services, including help with partner notification.
- Syphilis is easily curable at all stages with prescription medication.
- All sexual partners of the person with syphilis should be treated at same time.
- A person can be re-infected after treatment.
More information about syphilis
- Syphilis: Fact Sheet, CDC
The CDC’s basic fact sheets are presented in plain language for individuals with general questions about sexually transmitted diseases.
- Syphilis FAQs: American Sexual Health Association
Frequently asked questions and answers about syphilis from the American Sexual Health Association.
- Minnesota Family Planning and STD Hotline
Toll-free hotline for confidential information about the prevention, testing locations and treatment of STDs in Minnesota (1-800-78-FACTS).