What is it?

Syphilis is a bacterial disease. In its early stages syphilis causes chancres (painless sores) or rashes, and over time can become one of the most dangerous STDs.

Who has it?

As of 2006 there were over 36,000 reported cases of syphilis in the US, with the majority of those from men who have sex with men.

How do you get it?

Syphilis can be passed through sexual contact (oral, vaginal, or anal), or by kissing someone with syphilis sores or other symptoms of syphilis.

How do you know you have it?

Chancres (painless sores) will be the first signs of syphilis, developing around or on the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth. Even if they aren’t treated, these sores will heal by themselves, but the syphilis will still progress. In the next stages of untreated syphilis, you may develop rashes on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands. You may experience joint pain, swollen glands, fever, sore throat, headaches, or hair loss. Again, these symptoms may disappear without treatment, but the disease will not.

How do you test for it?

If you have sores or other symptoms, you can ask your medical provider to take a look at them to check if they are syphilis. A blood sample may be taken to test for syphilis if you are not showing symptoms.

Can you get rid of it?

If you have had syphilis less than a year, it can be cured by a single antibiotic injection. For someone who has been infected for more than a year, additional doses of antibiotics will be needed.

How do you keep from getting it?

The only sure-fire way to keep from getting STDs is abstinence. However, if you are sexually active, a good way to avoid syphilis is by being mutually monogamous with a partner who is not infected with syphilis. The bacteria is passed by touching the syphilis chancres (sores), so although condoms can reduce the rise of contracting syphilis, they aren’t 100% effective.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Untreated syphilis is very dangerous, potentially causing brain damage, blindness, heart disease, or death. Syphilis can be passed to sexual partners even when you have no apparent symptoms, and an infected mother can pass the infection on to her baby. Like many STDs, syphilis infection increases your chances of contracting HIV.

Worried about STDs? Contact your local family planning clinic.

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