The Five Most Important Things You Should Know About: Syphilis

  1. Syphilis is a mighty morphing STD that is hard to detect. Its symptoms don’t occur in a consistent order, but experts have narrowed them down to four stages. The primary stage is when a firm sore, called a chancre, appears around your lady parts. You can get one firm sore or many love bumps. They may dry out and heal, but you’re still stuck with the infection. The second stage includes on-and-off rash, fever, fatigue, aching, and sore throat. The third stage is the hidden stage, when symptoms don’t appear for years, as this STD attacks and progresses.
  2. If left untreated, syphilis can damage your heart and brain in the final stages. The tertiary, or late syphilis, stage also attacks the eyes, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. Signs of late syphilis include paralysis, numbness, blindness, and even dementia. If you think you might have the Syph, you need to get treatment as soon as possible. Your chances of getting HIV increase if you have syphilis because chancres make it easier to pass on and acquire HIV.
  3. How do you contract this lovely STD? Syphilis is caused by bacterium that is passed between two lovers through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Vaginal, anal, and oral sex are perfectly good ways to swap sores. Sores are usually located on the vagina, anus, rectum, and penis. Syphilis sores can also hide out in the mouth or on the lips, so don’t kiss any more artsy guys in dimly lit bars — you want to be able to inspect his mouth thoroughly. Syphilis can also be passed on from mother to child in the womb. A pregnant woman with syphilis has a high chance of having a stillborn or deformed baby.
  4. Doctors diagnose syphilis by taking a sample from a chancre and inspecting it under a microscope for syphilis bacteria. Taking a blood test is another way to identify untreated syphilis and is highly recommended for pregnant women. Infection rates have been on the rise since 2000, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly two-thirds of new infections are in men who have sex with men. Women between 20 and 24-years-old and men 35 and 39-years-old had the highest number of new infections in 2006.
  5. Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages — a shot of penicillin usually does the trick — but you shouldn’t make that booty call yet. Additional penicillin shots are needed if you’ve had syphilis for longer than a year. It is possible to contract syphilis again, so periodic blood tests and exams are needed after treatment. The best way to prevent syphilis is to be in a monogamous relationship, use condoms, and speak openly with your partner about anything odd going on “down there.” Make sure your partner gets tested, too, so you both stay healthy and, hopefully, chancre-free. [CDC, Mayo Clinic]