About Syphilis

Any sexually active individual can get syphilis. If you are sexually active and a man who has sex with a man, are living with HIV, or have partners who have tested positive for syphilis before, then you should be tested often. Syphilis is a simple disease to treat, but may have very serious complications if not treated correctly.

How is it transmitted?

Syphilis is spread through any kind of sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal) with a partner that has a syphilis sore. Also, syphilis can be spread to an unborn baby by an infected mother.

Since syphilis can be spread at multiple sites (vaginal, oral, and anal), it is important that you have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider for appropriate testing.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of syphilis vary by stage and may be difficult to distinguish from other diseases. Each of the four stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary) presents differently. Primary syphilis usually has a sore at the site of infection (usually in or around the genitals, anus, rectum, or mouth). The sore is usually painless, which can cause the sore to go unnoticed. It usually lasts 3-6 weeks, but you must still receive treatment to stop the infection from moving to the secondary stage.

Secondary syphilis usually presents with a skin rash on one or more areas of your body, followed by mucous membrane lesions. Other symptoms may include headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. Signs and symptoms of both primary and secondary syphilis can be mild and may even go unnoticed.

Latent stage syphilis has no visible signs or symptoms, and is a precursor to tertiary syphilis, which can lead to severe medical problems involving the heart, brain, and other organs.


Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. Early detection is key, as treatment cannot reverse damage done to the body from the disease. Once treated, re-infection is still possible if re-exposed to an infected partner.


Similar to most STDs, correct use of condoms every time anal, vaginal, and oral sex takes place is the best protection. However, being exposed to a syphilis sore in areas not covered by a condom can still transmit syphilis.

Once an individual is diagnosed, they MUST tell all recent anal, vaginal, or oral sex partners within the past 2 months before the onset of symptoms or diagnosis so they can also get tested and treated.

If you have symptoms or think you have been exposed to syphilis, please call Student Health at 215-746-3535 and press option 3 to speak with a nurse.



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(updated 11/7/17)