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8 Common STDs

From HIV to herpes, get the facts

Syphilis

What is it?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection passed from one partner to another during sexual contact. The infection can affect the vagina, penis, urethra, and anus as well as the mouth and lips.

What are the symptoms?

There are three stages of syphilis, each with different symptoms. In the primary stage, you may notice an open sore, called a chancre. Chancres often appear about three weeks after infection, though it can take up to 90 days for a chancre to form. The sores are commonly found on the genitals but may also appear inside the vagina, on the cervix, and on the lips or breasts. Between three and six weeks after the chancres appear, syphilis enters the secondary stage, which includes rashes on your palms and the soles of your feet, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, weight loss, and even hair loss. If left untreated, this stage can last for up to two years. Late-stage syphilis can occur between one and 20 years after the initial infection and may cause damage to the heart, brain, and nervous system; in rare cases, late-stage syphilis is fatal.

The stages of syphilis often overlap and may occur in any order. Syphilis often has no symptoms or such mild symptoms it goes undiagnosed for long periods.

How is it spread?

In order for syphilis to be spread, there must be direct contact with the sores during vaginal and anal sex, oral sex, and, rarely, kissing. It’s especially contagious during the earliest stages when sores are present.

How is it diagnosed?

To test for syphilis, your doctor will do a blood test or, if sores are present, a swab test.

How is it treated?

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. Even though the infection is treatable, damage done during late-stage syphilis is irreversible.

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