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Sexual Conditions Health Center

Syphilis and Men Who Have Sex With Men

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Syphilis Treatment

Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages. A single dose of penicillin, an antibiotic, will cure a person who has had syphilis for less than a year. Additional doses are needed to treat someone who has had syphilis for longer than a year. For people who are allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics are available to treat syphilis. Treatment will kill the syphilis bacterium and prevent further damage, but it will not repair damage already done. There are no home remedies or over-the-counter drugs that will cure syphilis.

Because effective treatment is available, it is important that persons be screened for syphilis on an on-going basis if their sexual behaviors put them at risk for STDs.

Persons who receive syphilis treatment must abstain from sexual contact with new partners until the syphilis sores are completely healed. Persons with syphilis must notify their sex partners so that they also can be tested and receive treatment.

Syphilis Recurrence

Having syphilis once does not protect a person from getting it again. Following successful treatment, people can still be susceptible to re-infection. Only lab tests can confirm whether someone has syphilis. Because syphilis sores can be hidden in the vagina, rectum, or mouth, it may not be obvious that a sex partner has syphilis. Talking with your health care provider will help you determine if you need to get re-tested for syphilis after you have received treatment.

Syphilis Prevention

The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is not infected.

Avoiding alcohol and drug use may also help prevent transmission of syphilis, because these activities may lead to risky sexual behavior. It is important that sex partners talk to each other about their HIV status and history of other STDs so that preventive action can be taken.

For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of male latex condoms can help reduce the risk of syphilis transmission. However, genital ulcer diseases like syphilis are transmitted primarily through "skin-to-skin" or "surface-to-surface" contact from sores that may not be covered by condoms. Correct and consistent use of male latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmission only if infected areas or sites of potential infection are covered.

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