Health Department

Health Department

Syphilis Prevention

What Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Syphilis is spread from person to person by physical contact during vaginal, anal and oral sex.

Other names for syphilis are syph, pox or bad blood.

Symptoms Of Syphilis

First symptoms show up in 1 to 12 weeks after having sex. Most men with syphilis notice symptoms. Many women do not have symptoms.

A person with syphilis may notice:

  • A skin sore called a chancre. There may be more than one sore. Sores may be small or large (from 1/8 inch to 1½ inches). They usually do not hurt.
  • Sores may be on the penis, scrotum, lips of the vagina (labia), inside the vagina, or on other parts of the body, such as the mouth, throat, breasts, anus or fingers.
  • Lymph glands near the sore may be swollen.

Why Is Syphilis Dangerous?

Even if it's not treated, the syphilis sore will go away after 1 to 8 weeks.

But even if the sore goes away, it does not mean you're cured.

  • The syphilis is still in your body and can show up again and in other way.
  • After about 6 to 8 weeks, you may feel sick all over, like you have the flu. You may have fever, aches, poor appetite, sore throat, headache or swollen glands.
  • You may have a skin rash all over the body, in the mouth, on the palms of the hands or on the sex organs.
  • Less often, syphilis can cause hair loss, cough, or eye, brain, never, bowel, stomach, liver or kidney problems.

The rash and flu-like symptoms will go away after 2 to 6 weeks. But you are still not cured.

People who have syphilis and don't get treated get syphilis later in the brain, spinal cord, heart or other parts of the body.

Syphilis that is not treated can make a person blind, crippled or insane, even many years after the original infection.

A mother with syphilis can give it to her baby during pregnancy. Syphilis may cause a miscarriage or birth defects.

How To Find Out If You Have Syphilis

The only way to know for sure if you have syphilis is to go to a doctor or clinic.

If you have a sore, there is a test to check whether it is syphilis. If you have any genital sores, ask for a syphilis test.

Even if you don't have a sore, a special blood test can tell if you've been infected in the past. A blood test for syphilis is needed before marriage in most states.

Pregnant women should also have a blood test for syphilis, to protect themselves and their babies.

How To Protect Yourself

Not having sex is your best protection against syphilis and other STDs. Having sex with only one uninfected partner who only has sex with you is also safe.

Here are some other ways to protect yourself:

  • Use latex condoms (rubbers) with a water-based lubricant every time you have sex. Condoms will help protect you from STDs, including syphilis. Both men and women should carry condoms.
  • Get checked for syphilis and other STDs every time you have a health exam.
  • If you have more than one sex partner, get an STD check any time you're concerned about risk, even if you don't have any symptoms.
  • Do not have sex with a person who you think may have an STD.
  • Do not use drugs or alcohol when you might have sex. If you're high, you might forget to protect yourself.

If you are pregnant, review information from the CDC by clicking here. 

If You Have Syphilis

Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. Usually the treatment is a single shot. Advanced syphilis needs longer treatment.

  • If you are given pills, be sure to take all of them. Syphilis may come back if you don't. Don't stop taking the pills just because the symptoms go away.
  • Do not have sex until your health care provider says you're cured.
  • Tell your sex partner(s). Your partner must be treated, too. Otherwise, he or she could pass syphilis to someone else or back to you.
  • Go back for another test to be sure you've been cured.

For more information and statistics on syphilis, visit the CDC website.