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Health Information For Teens
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Early treatment can cure syphilis (pronounced: SIFF-ill-iss) and prevent long-term problems.
STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs) are infections that spread through sex (vaginal, oral, or anal). Some STDs can spread through close contact with the genitals or body fluids. (Genitals are the sexual or reproductive organs that are on the outside of the body.)
Syphilis usually spreads by touching a sore (called a chancre [pronounced: SHANK-er]) or wart-like lesions (called condyloma lata) caused by syphilis. This can happen through sex (vaginal, oral, or anal) or close sexual contact.
The chancre or condyloma lata (pronounced: kon-duh-LOW-muh LAH-tuh) may be hard to see, so someone might not know they have them.
An infected pregnant woman can spread the infection to her unborn baby during pregnancy or delivery.
Syphilis has different stages. In the order that they happen, they are:
The main symptom of primary syphilis is a one or more chancres (sores). They develop about 3 weeks after someone is infected. The chancres happens where the sexual contact happened (genitals, mouth, or rectal area). They are usually painless.
The chancre goes away in about 3–6 weeks, even without treatment. But without treatment, syphilis will move on to the next stage, secondary syphilis.
A few weeks to months after the chancre appears, these symptoms can begin:
Over time, secondary syphilis can liver, kidney, and digestive tract problems.
The symptoms of secondary syphilis will go away. But without treatment, syphilis will move on to the next stage, latent syphilis.
Someone with latent syphilis is infected but does not have any symptoms (“latent” means it’s not obvious or causing symptoms). Syphilis can stay latent for life. Or, it may move to late syphilis.
If latent syphilis progresses to late syphilis (also called tertiary syphilis), it causes serious damage to the heart and blood vessels, brain and nervous system, and other organs.
Late syphilis can develop any time from 1–30 years after someone is infected. Even someone who has not had any symptoms of primary or secondary syphilis can progress to late syphilis.
Neurosyphilis is syphilis that has spread to the brain and nervous system. It can happen during any of the stages of syphilis. People with neurosyphilis can have:
A type of
called Treponema pallidum causes syphilis.
To find out if someone has syphilis, health care providers usually do a blood test. Fluid from the chancre also can be tested. Someone who has symptoms of neurosyphilis will get a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). This test collects some fluid from around the brain and spinal cord for testing in a lab.
Health care providers treat syphilis with
. These medicines are given as a shot or through an IV (a tiny tube that goes into a vein). How long treatment is needed depends on what stage of syphilis someone is in.
Syphilis can be cured. But the medical problems it can lead to — such as dementia, artery damage, or blindness — usually can’t be cured.
After treatment, follow-up testing will make sure that the infection is cured.
All sexual partners should get tested and treated, if necessary:
Yes, people can get syphilis again if they have sex with someone who is infected.
The only way to prevent syphilis and other STDs is not to have sex (oral, vaginal, or anal). If someone decides to have sex, using a latex condom every time can prevent most STDs.
Anyone who is sexually active should get tested for STDs every year, or more often if recommended by their health care provider.
You’ve probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself.
Condoms may be a good birth control option for couples who are responsible enough to use one each time and people who want protection against STDs.
Find out what the experts have to say.
You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts. But what if the thought of having “the talk” makes you nervous? These tips can help.
People who have STDs might feel apprehensive about discussing their disease with a partner. Here are some tips on talking to a partner when you have an STD.
Girls should get their first gynecological checkup between ages 13 and 15. Find out what happens during a yearly gyn visit — and why most girls don’t get internal exams.
Some people – even those who are having sex – are embarrassed by the topic of condoms. Here are some tips for talking about condoms with your partner.
Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control.
There is no cure for AIDS, which is why prevention is so important. Get the facts on HIV/AIDS, as well as how it affects the body and is treated, in this article.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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