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:

Primary stage

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.

Secondary stage

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.

Latent stage

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?

Yes: See Doctor


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?

Yes: See Doctor


Are you suspicious of having contracted syphilis or another sexually transmitted disease from someone you suspect may be infected?
Yes: Call Doctor


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?
Yes: Call Doctor


Self-Care Prevention Tips

  • There’s only one way to guarantee you’ll never get a sexually transmitted disease: Never have sex.
  • Limiting your sexual activity to one person your entire life is a close second, provided your partner is also monogamous and does not have a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Avoid sexual contact with persons whose health status and practices are not known.
  • Don’t have sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (except in a monogamous relationship in which neither partner is infected with an STD).
  • Avoid sex if either partner has signs and symptoms of a genital tract infection.
  • Discuss a new partner’s sexual history with him or her before beginning a sexual relationship. (Be aware, though, that persons are not always honest about their sexual history.)
  • Latex condoms can reduce the spread of sexual diseases when used properly and carefully and for every sex act. They do not eliminate the risk entirely.
  • Both women and men should carry latex condoms and insist that they be used every time they have sexual relations.
  • Using spermicidal foams, jellies, creams (especially those that contain Nonoxynol-9) and a diaphragm can offer additional protection when used with a condom. Use water-based lubricants such as K-Y Brand Jelly. Don’t use oil-based or “petroleum” ones such as Vaseline. They can damage latex condoms.
  • Wash the genitals with soap and water before and after sexual intercourse.
  • Seek treatment for a sexually transmitted disease if you know your sex partner is infected.
  • Ask your doctor to check for STDs every six months if you have multiple sex partners even if you don’t have any symptoms.

Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism

© American Institute for Preventive Medicine

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021