Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that at one time was a major killer. The good news is that today, with proper treatment, syphilis can be cured. But how do you know if you’re at risk? And what do you need to do if you have it? Read on to learn more.
What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by bacteria. It actually develops in stages once you become infected. Syphilis is spread by direct contact with a syphilis sore during sexual activity – vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
What are the syphilis stages?
Primary syphilis is the first stage. During this time a person who has become infected develops a sore or even several sores at the site of infection. This is usually found on the genitals but can also be found in and around the mouth.
The sores are usually round and painless but they are your first sign that something could be wrong. Next you may experience secondary syphilis and have a skin rash, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. You might feel a little like you have the flu. Both the primary and secondary stages are generally mild and you may not put together that you have syphilis.
The third stage is the latent stage. This is a time when the bacteria is not active. You will not have any signs or symptoms at this point. But the final stage, tertiary syphilis, is when serious problems can occur.
With tertiary syphilis you may have neurological problems as well as other organs being affected such as the heart. This can begin anywhere from 10-30 years after your initial infection. People who are in this stage can experience paralysis and dementia.
Do I need to be tested for syphilis?
You may need to be tested if you have participated in activities that put you at risk. Any sexually active person can get syphilis if they have unprotected sex with someone who is infected. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you think you may have been infected.
Women who are pregnant always need to be tested because syphilis can be transmitted to the developing baby. If you’re sexually active and have HIV, a partner who has been infected with syphilis, or a man who is having sex with men you should also be tested as these tend to put you at a higher risk.
How is syphilis treated?
If you have a positive test for syphilis, the good news is that it is very treatable. You will be prescribed antibiotics and you need to take them as directed. It is best to be treated early because any damage that the infection does during the tertiary stage can be permanent.
Can I get syphilis more than once?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection. Once you have been treated you can be cured. However, you are still able to become re-infected if you come into contact with it again. You’ll need to protect yourself by using condoms for protection unless you are certain that your partner is free from syphilis.