Syphilis is not an STI to take lightly. If you think you may have it, take extra precautions because it’s not one you want to left untreated. It’s generally recommended that you test for it annually if you’re sexually active with a new partner or your partner has had new partners. As with most bacterial infections, it can be easily cured as long as it’s not some super resistant strain. If left untreated for too long, irreversible damage is inevitable.
What Is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a, potentially fatal, sexually transmitted bacterial infection that is caused by the treponema pallidum bacteria.
How to Test For Syphilis
Syphilis cannot be detected in your urine, so you have to do a syphilis blood test.
The easiest way to find out your status is to test for syphilis out of the comfort of your home. You can do this by ordering a syphilis home test online. I prefer testing at home because I don’t have to worry about cross contamination like at the doctor’s office. Also, I don’t have to schedule any time off work, tell my boss why I need time off, or have that embarrassing conversation with my doctor. Being able to test myself at home just makes my life easy.
Alternatively, if you want to get tested at a lab you can schedule and prepay for your appointment online. I recommend prepaying for your appointment if you can because it forces you to commit to going. If there is no money down, it’s easy to skip the test.
Where I’m currently living, there is one clinic 30 mins away that accepts walk-ins on Wednesday and Friday. Other than that, everywhere requires an appointment and was way too expensive. That’s one of the reasons I turned to home testing. I was really scared at first and wanted to go to a clinic the same day to get my results as fast as possible. That wasn’t possible for me so the it lead me to doing a home syphilis test.
Untreated Syphilis Can Lead To…
The end game with syphilis is death. In 2010, it was responsible for 113,00 deaths, which is a lot lower than the death toll from 1990, 202,000 (1). This means that syphilis is most definitely capable of killing you, so take it seriously. Fortunately, it also means that people are either getting tested & treated more and/or spreading it less. It’s good news all the way around.
Other complications that can come from untreated syphilis include: damaging your heart, joints, blood vessels, eyes, brain, and nervous system (2).
For pregnant women, syphilis can ultimately be fatal for the baby. The CDC estimates that infant death can happen up to 40% of the time (3). Syphilis has been known to cause premature births, underweight babies, and still births. If a baby is born with syphilis and it goes untreated, it can cause loss of hearing, cataracts, seizures, or death.
Primary Syphilis Symptoms
During the first stage of syphilis, the most common symptom is the appearance of one chancre (4).
This small sore will usually appear in about 3 weeks. The chancre shows up wherever your body came into contact with the bacteria. You may not notice the sore because it is usually painless, tender at most. On men, the sore is most commonly found on the penis but can also be found in the anus or mouth. For women, the chancre is most commonly found in the cervix (5).
It is also possible to have multiple chancres during the primary syphilis stage, but having only one chancre is more common.
If you don’t catch syphilis during the primary stage, it will progress to secondary syphilis.s
Secondary Syphilis Symptoms
- warts in mouth or genitals
- swelling in your lymph nodes
- rash all over hands/feet or body (doesn’t itch)
- achy muscles
Latent Syphilis Symptoms
During the latent syphilis stage, there are no symptoms.
Latent syphilis is when the infection lies dormant in your cells. Once you reach this stage, syphilis is not contagious. It can stay like this until you die without ever flaring back up again. But if it does flare back up, it will progress to the fourth and final stage which is the most deadly of them all.
Tertiary Syphilis Signs
- chronic gummas (soft growth balls, similar to tumors, all over body, liver, or bones)
- loss of balance
- syphilitic meningitis.
- pain in hips, legs, or feet
This phase of syphilis can also cause death. Also, syphilis is not contagious at this phase (5).
How Syphilis Spreads
Syphilis is spread most commonly through coming into contact with a chancre, also known as a syphilitic sore (6). The only other way of getting syphilis, that I am aware of, is through blood. Getting syphilis through someone else’s blood is rare, especially if you’re not sharing drug needles with someone who has syphilis.
A surefire way to get syphilis is through contact with a syphilitic chancre. These chancres can be on the inside of your anus, vagina, or throat which makes them hard or impossible to see. They usually don’t hurt which makes them even harder to detect. It is possible to get syphilis through deep kissing if one person has a syphilitic chancre in their mouth, but this is extremely rare. Practically speaking, syphilis is spread through unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex.
Another thing to note, syphilis is most commonly found in men who have sex with men (MSM), according to the CDC. I will do more research as to why this is and write an article on it later. Join my email list to be notified of that article when it is published.
Img src: CDC.
Syphilis is pretty easy to treat, requiring only one penicillin shot in the butt (7).
There are alternative treatments which involve taking a schedule of antibiotics for a short period of time. But the most common treatment is the penicillin shot. It’s very effective and it’s one and done.