Syphilis is sometimes called “pox” or “bad blood”. Left untreated, syphilis is one of the most serious sexually transmitted diseases, leading to heart failure, blindness, insanity or death. Syphilis can progress slowly through three stages over a period of many years. When detected early, however, syphilis can be cured. Be alert for the following symptoms:
A large, painless, ulcer-like sore known as a chancre occurs two to six weeks after infection and generally appears around the area of sexual contact. The chancre disappears within a few weeks.
Within a month after the end of the primary stage, a widespread skin rash may appear cropping up on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and sometimes around the mouth and nose. The rash commonly has small, red, scaling bumps that do not itch. Other types of rashes, swollen lymph nodes, fever and flu-like symptoms that may also occur and small patches of hair may fall out of the scalp, bear, eyelashes and eyebrows.
Once syphilis reaches this stage, it may go unnoticed for years quietly damaging the heart, central nervous system, muscles and various other organs and tissues. The resulting effects are often fatal.
If you’ve been exposed to syphilis or have its symptoms, see a doctor or consult your county health department. For syphilis in its early stages, treatment consists of penicillin. If the disease has progressed further, you’ll require three consecutive weekly injections. (If you’re allergic to penicillin, you’ll receive an alternative antibiotic taken orally for two to four weeks.) You should have a blood test 3,6 and 12 months after treatment to be sure the disease is completely cured.
Once treatment is complete, you’re no longer contagious.
Questions to Ask
Do you have a large, painless ulcer-like sore (chancre) in the genital area, anus or mouth?
Did you have such a sore several weeks to months ago that healed, but not experience flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, general ill-feeling) and/or a skin rash of small, red, scaling bumps that do not itch?
Are you suspicious of having contracted syphilis or another sexually transmitted disease from someone you suspect may be infected?
Do you want to rule out the presence of syphilis or another sexually transmitted disease because you or your sex partner have had multiple sex partners and are considering a new sexual relationship, planning to get married or pregnant?
Self-Care Prevention Tips
Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism
© American Institute for Preventive Medicine