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Syphilis

► Download a PDF version of the Syphilis Fact Sheet
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What is syphilis and who should be tested?
It is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that both men and women can get.
  • Syphilis is increasing in New York and other cities. It is especially important for men who have sex with men,
    and men with HIV, to be tested regularly for syphilis and other STDs.
  • Anyone who has unsafe sex (such as sex without a condom or sex with multiple partners) should also be tested regularly for syphilis.

How is syphilis spread?
  • It is spread through any direct contact with a syphilis sore, usually during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
  • Kissing can spread it if there are syphilis sores in the mouth or on the lips.
  • A pregnant woman with syphilis can pass it to her fetus.
What are the symptoms of syphilis?
Most people with syphilis never notice any symptoms.
  • When symptoms do occur, they may include painless, open sores called chancres (pronounced “shankers”) on the penis, the anus, inside or outside the vagina, on the mouth or lips, or on any skin exposed during sex.
  • Later symptoms may include rough, red or reddish brown rashes (especially on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet), patchy hair loss, fever, swollen lymph glands,weight loss, muscle aches and fatigue.
  • Symptoms eventually disappear, even without treatment. But syphilismust be treated, or it stays in the body.
How will I know if I have a syphilis?
Ask your doctor for a blood test. (Most people don’t have symptoms.) If you have a sore or a rash, your doctor may
also collect a sample of fluid and have it tested for syphilis at a laboratory.

How is syphilis treated? Can I get it again?
  • Antibiotics can cure syphilis, often in one dose.
  • You can get syphilis again after treatment if you are exposed to it again.
What if I don’t get treated?
  • If you don’t get treated, syphilis stays in the body. Years later, it can seriously damage the heart, brain and nervous system.Untreated syphilis can eventually kill you.
  • Syphilis also increases your chance of getting or spreading HIV. If you think you were exposed to syphilis, get tested and treated right away!
Do my sex partners have to be treated?
  • Absolutely! If you have syphilis, tell everyone you’ve had sex with over the past year so they can be examined
    and treated.
  • Take all yourmedication as directed and don’t have sex until your treatment is complete.
What if I'm pregnant?
  • If left untreated, syphilis in pregnancy can cause severe problems for the newborn, including mental retardation, blindness, deformities and even death.
  • All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis and other STDs, including HIV, as early as possible in pregnancy. Women who are infected should be treated immediately and tested again throughout their pregnancy.

How can I avoid a yeast infection?
Sexually transmitted infections can be avoided by not having sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of getting chlamydia and most other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, by having sex only in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner you are sure is not infected. If you are having sex outside of such a relationship, you can reduce your risk of STDs by:

1. Latex condoms can protect against syphilis, but only if the condom covers the sore.

2. Not having sex is the surest way to protect against syphilis and other STDs.

3. You can also protect against STDs by having sex with just one partner who only has sex with you. But youmust be SURE that neither one of you is infected.

Other ways to reduce the risk of STDs:

1. Limit your sex partners. The more you have, the higher your risk.

2. ALWAYS use a latex condom for vaginal, anal and oral sex.

3. Latex condoms can prevent HIV and other STDs.

4. Condoms made of “natural”materials such as lambskin, protect against pregnancy but not against STDs.

5. Allergic to latex? Use polyurethane condoms.

6. Be careful with alcohol. Drinking or getting high makes it harder to remember to use condoms. For help with substance abuse, call 1-800-LifeNet (1-800-543-3638) or call 311 and ask for LifeNet.

7. Ask your doctor about circumcision. It may help protect men against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

More information
Free, confidential STD exams and treatment, and confidential or anonymous HIV counseling and testing, are available at Health Department clinics in all 5 boroughs of New York City. Health insurance, proof of citizenship, and parental consent are NOT required. See a list of clinics and hours online or call 311.