Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD. Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis

Syphilis is a chronic sexually transmitted disease that causes tissue destruction. It is caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. Syphilis affects the genitals, skin, and central nervous system. It can be transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn. There are five stages of the disease: incubation, primary, secondary, latency, and late stages. Syphilis is spread to another individual during sexual intercourse with someone who has primaryor secondary-stage syphilis. It can be detected with a blood test.

Living With Your Diagnosis
Signs and symptoms in the first stage include a painless, chancre sore that appears on the genitals, rectum, or mouth. This usually heals on its own in 1–5 weeks. The secondary stage lasts 2–6 weeks and can include headache; enlarged lymph glands in the armpit, groin, or neck; fever; nausea; and rash with small, red scaly bumps that appear on the penis, vagina, or mouth. The latent stage may last 1–40 years with no symptoms. The late stage includes destructive lesions and may affect the nervous system.

With treatment, syphilis is usually curable in about 3 months. Without treatment, widespread tissue destruction and death can occur. Penicillin is the drug of choice, and usually only 1 injection is required if syphilis is in the early stage. If syphilis has been present for more than a year, an injection every week for 3 weeks may be needed. If you are allergic to penicillin, you may be given tetracycline or erythromycin orally for 15–38 days. After the injection, some individuals may experience a reaction to the toxin released from the dying organisms, which includes fever, headache, and nausea.

The DOs
• Finish taking all the prescribed oral antibiotic.
• Make sure all sexual partners are notified.
• Return to your doctor for follow-up testing in 1 month and then every 3 months for 1 year.
• If you have a reaction after the injection, notify your doctor, rest, increase your fluid intake, and take Tylenol for the fever.
• Avoid sexual intercourse for at least 2 weeks after treatment or until cleared by your doctor.
• Use latex condoms during intercourse.
• Get tested for other sexually transmitted diseases.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t have unprotected sex with a new partner.
• Don’t hesitate to see your doctor if new symptoms appear after treatment.

When to See Your Doctor
• If after treatment you have a rash, a fever, a sore throat, or swelling in any joint.
• If you have had syphilis in the past and have not had a checkup in the past year.

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