Learn the signs and symptoms of syphilis. See a doctor, get tested, and follow their instructions if you have symptoms of any sexually transmitted infection or think you may have been exposed to one.
Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious illness. Having an active syphilis infection increases the risk you will get HIV or give HIV to someone else. HIV is incurable and can be fatal. If you are a pregnant woman, syphilis increases the risk that the pregnancy will end in miscarriage, death of the baby at birth or in infancy, or permanent disabilities for your baby. Fortunately, syphilis can be diagnosed with a blood test and cured with antibiotics.
You can have syphilis without knowing it. The symptoms are not always noticeable. If you think you may have been exposed to or infected with any sexually transmitted infection, see a doctor and get tested whether or not you have any symptoms. All pregnant women should be checked for syphilis, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections.
Syphilis is usually transmitted by vaginal, oral, or anal sexual contact. The second most common way syphilis is transmitted is from mother to child during the pregnancy, or during delivery. You can also get syphilis by kissing on or near a syphilis sore or by touching an infected area on the person.
Soon after infection, a sore develops that is usually round, hard, raised, and painless. Usually the sore is on the genitals, hands, or mouth. Usually, there is just one, but sometimes there can be multiple sores. Without treatment, the sore will usually heal within three to six weeks.
In many people with syphilis, lymph nodes near the sore will swell up, especially if the sore is near the genitals. Lymph nodes are small balls in your neck, underarms, groin, and knees that help fight infections. Even after the initial sore has healed, your lymph nodes may stay enlarged.
Without treatment, the infection will usually develop into secondary syphilis between three and six weeks after the sore appears. At this stage, you may have flu-like symptoms, a sore throat, feel tired, lose your appetite, or have swollen lymph nodes. Most commonly, you will have a rash of red or pink spots on your body. The spots may become similar to a pimple or a mark. The spots will often appear on the sides of your body, your arms, or your genitals or on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet. You may also get white or gray spots on your mouth or genitals.
A few people will lose patches of hair from their scalp, beard or eyebrows. You may also develop problems with your kidneys, eyes, liver, bones, or joints; meningitis; or deafness.
In the final stage of syphilis, you may develop spots on your body, most commonly on the skin, bone, or liver. The skin spots may turn into ulcers. You may also develop dementia, paralysis, and damage to the spinal cord and brain.
At any stage of syphilis, you may also develop meningitis, headaches, nausea, vision and hearing problems, dizziness, memory and speech problems, irritability, and delusions.
If you are a woman who is pregnant or who may become pregnant, it is vital that you be tested for syphilis. If you are pregnant, have syphilis, and don't get treated, more than two-thirds of the time, your pregnancy will have a poor outcome.
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