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Know your STDs & How to Prevent Them: Syphilis

You might think with a name like “syphilis,” this STD is a little less minor than say herpes or gonorrhea. It sounds like it could be similar to the sniffles or a sneeze. However pull back the truth on this STD, known as the “great imitator” and you’ll see there’s nothing minor about this disease at all.


Syphilis is like the "cosmo" of STDs. It's not as common as say chlamydia or gonorrhea. It's found in young adults. However it's pretty serious and can cause some major damage if left untreated.

What is Syphilis?

Unlike some of the other STDs commonly found in teens, syphilis is actually more common in young adults aged 20-39. It’s the cosmo of STDs – not as common as gonorrhea or chlamydia but certainly just as harmful and quite sophisticated. Plus, it can be passed along to newborn babies. Syphilis is like herpes in the fact it’s identified by sores. However like many of the other STDs, symptoms often go unnoticed and unfortunately untreated.

Syphilis Sores & Symptoms

Syphilis is first spotted via sores. This mostly occurs in the “below the belt” areas – but may also occur around the lips or mouth. There are three “stages” of syphilis:

First stage of syphilis

One small sore will appear. It typically doesn’t hurt, is very small and painless. CDC says average time it takes for this sore to show up is around 21 days (could be shorter or longer.) This sore will clear up without treatment – however if it’s not properly treated, you could have big problems on your hands.

Second stage of syphilis

Rash. It may or may not itch. Plus, it will appear in odd places like your hands & feet. The rash may also appear on other parts of the body, but be very faint. Other symptoms that might occur are mucus membranes, flu-like symptoms, weight loss, hair loss and more. Again, this state might clear up on its own but without proper treatment it will continue to advance.

Latent stage of syphilis

This occurs after symptoms of the first and second stage have cleared up. Although there are no signs of disease or that something is wrong – it’s not that syphilis has gone away. It’s just hanging out – and unfortunately possibly even spreading to other people and damaging your internal organs. CDC says about 15% of people make it to this stage. It can occur even 10-15 YEARS after you first came down with the disease.

Why get Treated for Syphilis?

If you’re sleeping with multiple partners and there’s even a slim chance that you’ve been with someone with syphilis, you need to get STD tested. In it’s early stages, it’s a simple cure with an antibiotic. In a secondary stage, a few rounds of antibiotics are needed. However while medicines may cure the bacteria, they cannot reverse the damage.

Being tested regularly and treated for syphilis is a really big deal. Here’s why:

  • You can pass along this disease to your newborn. It can effect your pregnancy and cause stillbirth. If the pregnancy is successful, the child may still have health complications once they’re born.
  • Having syphilis increases your risk of contracting HIV – like a 2-to-5 fold increased risk.
  • Left untreated, it can damage your internal organs to the point you have trouble coordinating muscles, experiencing numbness, struggling with dementia and more.
  • You can be re-infected with the disease even after it’s treated. Continual testing is needed.
  • Initial symptoms may seem like they’re “no big deal.” However they are a VERY big deal.

Preventing Syphilis

Any STD is preventable by abstaining from sexual intercourse or only sleeping with one person who you KNOW does not have an STD. Syphilis is only transmitted through sexual contact – you cannot get it through shared bathrooms or touching the same objects. Anal, oral, or genital contact is the culprit for transmission of this powerful and harmful STD. Condom use may help prevent spreading, however is not advised. If you have any signs or suspicious that you or your partner have syphilis, it’s best to abstain from any sexual contact, get tested for syphilis, and if positive, get treated.

Worried that you have syphilis?

Find a walk-in STD testing center today.

Find more information on Syphilis from the CDC.



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  1. Pingback by Don’t Sit on The Syph… « Student Health Blog on June 14, 2012 at 7:38 am

    […] Read more about syphilis. […]

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