Do I Have Syphilis? Signs and Symptoms of
Syphilis Hi, my name is Dr. Rebecca Kuhn. I’m an HIV/AIDS
clinician. Welcome to “Do I Have Syphilis? Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis.”
Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious illness.
Having an active syphilis infection increases the
risk you will get HIV or give HIV to someone else. HIV is incurable and can be fatal. If
you are a pregnant woman, syphilis increases the risk that the pregnancy will end in miscarriage,
death of the baby at birth or in infancy, or permanent disabilities for your
baby. Fortunately, syphilis can be diagnosed with a blood test and cured with antibiotics.
You can have syphilis without knowing it. The symptoms are not always noticeable. If
you think you may have been exposed to or infected with any sexually transmitted
infection, see a doctor and get tested whether or not you have any symptoms. All
pregnant women should be checked for syphilis, HIV, and other sexually transmitted
infections. How Is Syphilis Transmitted?
Syphilis is usually transmitted by vaginal, oral, or anal sexual contact. The second most
common way syphilis is transmitted is from mother to child during the pregnancy, or
during delivery. You can also get syphilis by kissing on or near a syphilis sore or by
touching an infected area on the person. Symptoms of Syphilis
Soon after infection, a sore develops that is usually round, hard, raised, and painless.
Usually the sore is on the genitals, hands, or mouth. Usually, there is just one, but
sometimes there can be multiple sores. Without treatment, the sore will usually heal
within three to six weeks. In many people with syphilis, lymph nodes
near the sore will swell up, especially if the
sore is near the genitals. Lymph nodes are small balls in your neck, underarms, groin,
and knees that help fight infections. Even after the initial sore has healed, your lymph
nodes may stay enlarged. Without treatment, the infection will usually
develop into secondary syphilis between three and six weeks after the sore appears.
At this stage, you may have flu-like symptoms, a sore throat, feel tired, lose
your appetite, or have swollen lymph nodes. Most commonly, you will have a rash of red
or pink spots on your body. The spots may become similar to a pimple or a mark. The
spots will often appear on the sides of your body, your arms, or your genitals or on the
palms of your hands or the soles of your feet. You may also get white or gray spots
on your mouth or genitals. A few people will lose patches of hair from
their scalp, beard or eyebrows. You may also develop problems with your kidneys, eyes,
liver, bones, or joints; meningitis; or deafness.
In the final stage of syphilis, you may develop spots on your body, most commonly on
the skin, bone, or liver. The skin spots may turn into ulcers. You may also develop
dementia, paralysis, and damage to the spinal cord and brain.
At any stage of syphilis, you may also develop meningitis, headaches, nausea, vision and
hearing problems, dizziness, memory and speech problems,
irritability, and delusions. Syphilis in Pregnant Women
If you are a woman who is pregnant or who may become pregnant, it is vital that you
be tested for syphilis. The United States Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all pregnant women be tested
for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections including HIV, chlamydia,
and Hepatitis B. The World Health Organization recommends that all pregnant
women be tested for syphilis the first time they visit their doctor and a second time
in the third trimester as well as tested for HIV
and checked for symptoms of other sexually transmitted infections.
If you are pregnant, have syphilis, and don’t get treated, more than two-thirds of the time,
your pregnancy will have a poor outcome. Without treatment, there is a one in four
chance that you will have a miscarriage or that your baby will be born dead, and more
than one chance in ten that your baby will die as an infant. Even if your baby survives,
it may have syphilis and may be permanently disabled even after it is treated. By getting
tested for syphilis and treated if you need it, you can protect your own health and your
baby’s health too. So if you are pregnant, talk to your doctor right away, get tested
for syphilis and HIV, and follow the doctor’s
instructions. Syphilis Treatment
If you have syphilis, your doctor will give you antibiotics. Do not have sex until your
doctor says you are cured. Getting Your Sexual Partners Tested and Treated
for Syphilis If you have a sexually transmitted infection,
it is important that all of your current and recent sexual partners be tested and treated
as well. If you aren’t comfortable telling a
current or past sexual partner that you were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted
infection, in many places, you can give the public health service the names and contact
information of your partners and the public health service will ask your partners to get
tested without revealing your name. Preventing Syphilis
The ways to reduce your risk of syphilis include: abstaining from sex
being mutually faithful with a partner who has been tested and is known not to have
syphilis using a condom correctly every time you have
sex, every way you have sex. Using a condom is always a good idea and can
greatly reduce the risk of transmitting many sexually transmitted infections. However,
syphilis can occur in and be transmitted from parts of the body that are covered by
a condom as well as parts of the body that are
not covered by a condom. Using a condom can only reduce the risk of transmitting
syphilis if the infected part of the body, or the part of the partner’s body that touches
it, are covered by the condom.
See a Doctor Watching a video is no substitute for seeing
a doctor and being evaluated in person. If you
are feeling ill, have any signs or symptoms of disease, or think you may have been
exposed to a sexually transmitted infection, see a doctor and be evaluated in person.
For AIDSvideos.org, this is Dr. Rebecca Kuhn.