Syphilis is spread by contact with open sores (usually during sex). If left untreated it can cause serious health problems, including brain and nervous system damage, blood infection and even death. If early action is taken, syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. Syphilis prevalence is growing in the United States, particularly among men who have sex with men.
Early signs may include a small, painless, firm sore in or around the vagina, penis, mouth or anus. This can be followed by rash on the body that is particularly noticeable on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. Other, less common signs and symptoms may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Early-diagnosed syphilis can be treated and cured easily with an injection of penicillin (preferred) or 14 days of antibiotics (for patients allergic to penicillin). For people who have syphilis that was undiagnosed for more than one year, it can be treated and cured with a longer course of stronger antibiotics (an injection once a week for three weeks).
If a pregnant woman contracts syphilis, it can lead to the death of the fetus. Syphilis can be spread through oral, vaginal and anal sex with sores being present on the lips, mouth and anus in addition to the genitals.
As with all STIs, the most effective protection is to abstain from sexual activity or be monogamous with one long-term partner who has tested negative for syphilis. Latex condoms can help reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the infection.