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What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a common bacterial infection that’s spread through sex. Syphilis is easily cured with antibiotic medicine, but it can cause permanent damage if you don’t get treated.

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Syphilis is serious — but it can be cured.

Syphilis is a really common STD. Syphilis is spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Syphilis causes sores on your genitals (called chancres). The sores are usually painless, but they can easily spread the infection to other people. You get syphilis from contact with the sores. A lot of people with syphilis don’t notice the sores and feel totally fine, so they might not know they have it.

Syphilis can infect your vagina, anus, penis, or scrotum, and sometimes your lips and mouth. You can help prevent syphilis by using condoms and/or dental dams every time you have sex.

Syphilis can be easily cured with medication if you treat it early. But without treatment, it leads to really serious, permanent problems like brain damage, paralysis, and blindness. That’s why STD testing is so important — the sooner you know you have syphilis, the faster you can get rid of it.

How do you get syphilis?

Syphilis is spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. You get it when your vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or mouth touches someone’s syphilis sores — usually during sex. Syphilis can be spread even if no one cums.

Syphilis isn’t spread through casual contact, so you CAN’T get it from sharing food or drinks, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, sharing towels, or sitting on toilet seats.

The main ways people get syphilis are from having vaginal sex and anal sex. It’s less common to get it from having oral sex, but it can happen. Syphilis is very easy to give to other people in the beginning, when there are sores. But lots of people don’t even know they have syphilis because they don’t notice the sores. Using condoms every time you have sex is one of the best ways to help prevent syphilis — even if you and your partner seem totally healthy. 

A mother can also pass syphilis to a baby during pregnancy and childbirth, which can be dangerous. This is called congenital syphilis.

What's congenital syphilis?

Congenital syphilis (CS) happens when syphilis is passed to your baby during pregnancy. The impact of CS on your baby’s health depends on how long you’ve had syphilis and when you get treated for it. So it’s important to get tested for syphilis at your first pregnancy check up. Your nurse or doctor can help you decide how often to get tested and for which infections during your pregnancy, and give you treatment if you test positive. 
 
Congenital syphilis can cause you to have a miscarriage, early delivery, or stillbirth. It can also cause your baby to have a low birth weight or die shortly after birth. Babies born with congenital syphilis can have deformed bones, anemia (low blood count), enlarged livers and spleens, yellowing of the skin or eyes, blindness, deafness, meningitis, and skin rashes. Usually, these problems develop in the first few weeks after birth, but they can also happen years later. 
 
There’s treatment for CS, but your baby will need to be treated right away so they can avoid developing serious health problems. After testing and examining your baby, your nurse or doctor will recommend treatment. Treatment for CS includes antibiotics. Sometimes they only need one dose, but sometimes they need to be treated while staying in the hospital for 10 days. 

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