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Syphilis: Easy Insights on Detection, Treatment, and Prevention

What is syphilis?

Syphilis, an ancient STD caused by Treponema pallidum, can lead to serious health issues if not treated.

How common is syphilis?

Cases are rising, with 176,713 new cases in 2021. Gay and bisexual men face higher risks, but rates are increasing among heterosexual individuals, too. Congenital syphilis cases exceed 2,800.

How do people get syphilis?

It spreads through direct contact with a syphilitic sore during sexual activity. Pregnant individuals can pass it on to their babies.

How quickly do symptoms appear?

Symptoms show up in 10 to 90 days, typically around 21 days post-infection.

What are the signs and symptoms in adults?

Progressing through primary (painless sores), secondary (rashes, flu-like symptoms), latent (no visible signs), and tertiary (rare, affecting organs) stages.

How does syphilis affect pregnant individuals and their babies?

Untreated syphilis during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth or serious issues in the baby.

How can healthcare providers diagnose syphilis?

Blood tests detect specific antibodies, crucial for early detection, especially in pregnant individuals.

What is the link between syphilis and HIV?

Syphilis increases the risk of HIV transmission. Regular testing and safe practices are crucial.

What is the treatment for syphilis?

Benzathine penicillin is the recommended treatment to prevent severe health issues.

Who should receive syphilis testing?

Anyone with symptoms, recent exposure, or specific risk factors, including pregnant individuals, sexually active MSM, those living with HIV, and those on PrEP.

Will syphilis recur?

Reinfection is possible even after successful treatment. Regular follow-up and testing are crucial.

How can someone prevent syphilis?

Consistent and correct condom use reduces the risk. Abstaining from sex or being in a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner are other preventive measures.

Understanding syphilis, getting tested regularly, and practising safe sex are key steps to staying healthy.



1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2021. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services; April 11, 2023.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preliminary 2021 Syphilis Data. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services; September 2021.

3. Workowski, KA, Bachmann, LH, Chang, PA, et. al. Sexually Transmitted Infections Treatment Guidelines, 2021. MMWR Recomm Rep 2021; 70(No. 4): 1-187.

4. Alexander, J.M., et al., Efficacy of treatment for syphilis in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol, 1999. 93(1): p. 5-8.

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Discordant results from reverse sequence syphilis screening–five laboratories, United States, 2006-2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 2011. 60(5): p. 133-7.

6. Pathela P et al. The high risk of an HIV diagnosis following diagnosis of syphilis: a population-level analysis of New York City men. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2015;61:281-287.

7. HIV prevention through early detection and treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases–United States. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee for HIV and STD prevention. MMWR Recomm Rep, 1998. 47(RR-12): p. 1-24.

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inadvertent use of Bicillin C-R to treat syphilis infection–Los Angeles, California, 1999-2004. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 2005. 54(9): p. 217-9

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