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Syphilis is curable and preventable, but left untreated, it can cause serious health effects and even death.
What Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that progresses in stages. If detected early, syphilis is curable and the progression of the disease is preventable -- but left untreated, it can cause serious and irreversible health effects, including cardiovascular damage, neurological dysfunction, and death. Infection with syphilis also can increase your risk of HIV transmission. During pregnancy, the disease can cause stillbirth, premature delivery, or infant death.

How Is It Spread?

Syphilis is passed through genital, anal, and oral sex. It also is spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Syphilis can be passed from mother to baby during delivery.

What Are the Symptoms?

Primary syphilis: A single sore that lasts from one to five weeks. It will go away on its own, but without treatment you will still be infected.

Secondary syphilis: A skin rash that lasts a few weeks and clears up on its on. The rash can look like anything but often appears on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet. Other symptoms may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, or fatigue.

Latent syphilis: No symptoms are present, but the bacterium remains in the body and begins to damage the internal organs.

Late syphilis: Symptoms associated with cardiovascular and neurological damage and skin or bone lesions.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Visit your health-care provider or a family-planning clinic and ask to be tested.

How Is It Treated?

If detected early, syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. Sexual partners also must be treated.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Use a latex condom correctly each time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Information Resources

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From the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.