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Syphilis

This page was reviewed or revised on Thursday, March 12, 2015 10:57 AM

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis (sif-uh-lis) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be passed from person-to-person by direct contact with a syphilis sore.

Sores are mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores can be on the lips and in the mouth.

Syphilis is spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Pregnant women with the disease can pass the infection to their unborn child. If left untreated in pregnant women, it can cause birth defects or stillbirth. Injection drug users can get syphilis by sharing needles.

Symptoms

After syphilis enters the body it may take 10-90 days before any symptoms appear. Symptoms appear in various stages and sometimes, there are no symptoms. It can be spread by someone who is not aware of their infection.

Syphilis goes through 3 stages after infection, with different symptoms at each stage.

First Stage

A chancre (shang-ker) sore may appear on the genitals or at the spot where the infection entered the body. The sore is usually painless and will heal on its own. However, the syphilis bacteria are still in the body.

Second Stage

In 4-10 weeks after the chancre sore appears, a rash may develop on any part of the body, especially the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.

Patchy hair loss, swollen glands and joint pain may also be experienced at this stage. These symptoms may also disappear without treatment.

Third Stage

About 2 years after initial contact, the bacteria may begin to attack the heart, brain and nerves. At this stage, there are usually no symptoms to indicate that the infection is still in the body.

How do I know if I have syphilis?

The most common test is a blood test, but lab tests, physical exam and a medical history may be needed. All sexual and needle-sharing partners must be checked.

The bacteria may not show up in blood tests for up to 2-12 weeks after contact with an infected person.

Treating syphilis

Syphilis can be cured with penicillin injections or antibiotics. It is important to follow your doctor's instructions and finish your treatment. Re-visit the doctor to confirm if treatment was successful.

When can I have sex again?

If you have syphilis, avoid all sexual contact, including oral, vaginal and/or anal sex, and avoid contact with syphilis sores or rashes for at least 2 weeks after treatment is completed.

For further information on sexually transmitted infections contact Lambton Public Health at 519-383-8331 or 1-800-667-1839.

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