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Sexual Conditions Health Center

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Understanding Syphilis -- Diagnosis and Treatment

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How Do I Know If I Have Syphilis?

Syphilis is usually diagnosed by a blood test, sometimes in combination with an examination of lesions. Shortly after infection, the body produces infection-fighting antibodies, which can be detected with an inexpensive blood test. These antibodies can stay in the blood for months or years after infection. It is difficult to tell from the blood test how long a patient may have had syphilis. Every pregnant woman should receive this blood test, given the risk of transmitting the disease to her developing baby.

What Are the Treatments for Syphilis?

If caught early, syphilis may be cured with antibiotics. A single dose of penicillin is extremely effective in treating the early stages of syphilis, and the antibiotic also is fairly effective (in larger doses) in treating the later stages of the disease. But if the disease progresses to the third stage, you may suffer permanent damage to your heart or nervous system.

If you are allergic to penicillin, tell your doctor, and you will probably get azithromycin or doxycycline instead. Regardless of the treatment, you'll require follow-up blood tests at regular intervals for at least a year after treatment.

People who receive syphilis treatment must abstain from sexual contact with new partners until the sores are healed. All sexual partners need to be notified about an infection so they can be tested and, if necessary, treated. Local health departments can assist with notifying partners.

There are no home remedies or over-the-counter drugs that will cure syphilis.

How Can I Prevent Syphilis?

Always use a latex condom when having sex, especially if you are not in a mutually monogamous, long-term relationship. However, condoms do not provide complete protection, because the syphilis sores can sometimes be on areas not covered by a condom.

Washing, urinating, or douching after sex does not prevent STDs, including syphilis.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 23, 2015
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