5 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Syphilis
STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) are a big deal for young adults. According to the CDC , in 2016 there were more than 89,000 reported cases of syphilis in the United States. Nearly 6,500 of those new cases were among 15 – 24 year olds.
Some of you probably don’t want to talk about STDs with your friends or family, and you may not even want to bring it up with a doctor because it can be embarrassing. We want to give you some information about syphilis, an STD, because if it isn’t treated, this infection can cause very serious problems. With the right treatment, though, syphilis is pretty simple to cure.
Here are 5 things you need to know about syphilis:
1. What is it?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is spread through sexual contact. You can get syphilis by having vaginal, oral or anal sex with someone who is infected. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby. If you have syphilis once and get treatment, you can still get syphilis again.
2. What does syphilis look like?
Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent and tertiary). Each stage has different signs and symptoms.
A person with primary stage syphilis usually has a sore or sores at the original site of infection (on or around the genitals, around the anus or in the rectum, or around or in the mouth. These sores are often firm, round and painless.
A person with secondary stage syphilis may have a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes and a fever. Some other symptoms may include sore throat, patchy hair loss, muscle aches and feeling really tired.
During both primary and secondary stage syphilis, the signs and symptoms may be so mild that you don’t notice them. So it is possible to have syphilis for years and not realize it.
Latent means hidden or concealed, and during this stage there are no symptoms at all.
A person with tertiary syphilis usually has major medical problems. At this stage, it can affect the heart, the brain and other bodily organs.
3. How do I know for sure if I have syphilis?
You have to get tested. There is no other way. Usually, a blood test is done. Sometimes, a doctor may test the fluid from a sore to see if it’s syphilis.
4. What if I don’t get treated?
Without treatment, you will progress through the stages of syphilis and you will continue to have syphilis in your body for years, potentially spreading the infection to any sexual partners.
Not everyone who has untreated syphilis will end up with tertiary stage syphilis. But when it does happen, it occurs 10 – 30 years after the initial infection and can affect many organs in the body. It can cause major problems in the heart and with blood vessels. It can infect the eyes and cause blindness. It can also infect the brain and cause neurological problems. And finally, it can lead to death.
5. Is there a cure for syphilis?
Yes. The right antibiotics can cure you of syphilis. But the antibiotics won’t reverse any damage that has already been done. This is why it’s so important to be tested and get treatment right away.
There is only one way to totally avoid getting syphilis (or any STD). That is not to have sex. Waiting to have sex till you are in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship is one of the safest ways to prevent STD’s. Remember, if you’ve had sex, or lots of sexual partners, this is still a good option for you…waiting! Condoms can help prevent STD’s but also know they are not 100% guaranteed. For example, condoms break and are site specific, meaning if you have contact with a sore on another area of your partner’s genitals while using a condom, you can be infected.
You deserve to be healthy. If you’re sexually active and want to talk about your risk for syphilis or any other STDs, please call us. We’ll set up a confidential appointment at no cost to you to listen to your concerns and talk through your options.