Syphilis is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) that affects both men and women. It is caused by bacterium. In the United States, there are 55,400 new infections each year.

In 2010, 47.4% of all cases reported to CDC were among African American men and women.

Street Name: The Great Imitator, Bad Blood

How you get it: Syphilis is most contagious in the primary and secondary stages. Contact with a sore known as “chancre” which could be located in men and women genitial, inside mouth and on lips.

Symptoms: There are three stages to a syphilis infection: primary, secondary and latent stage.

Primary stage: A painless sore known as “chancre” will usually appear 10 to 90 days following the infection. The sore lasts 3 to 6 weeks and heals regardless of whether or not a person is treated. However, without treatment the infection progresses to the secondary stage.

Secondary stage: A rash that could be found anyplace on the body but most commonly found on feet or palms of the hands. Large, raised, gray or white lesions may develop in warm, moist areas such as the mouth, underarm or groin region. Sometimes rashes are so faint that they go unnoticed. Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. The symptoms will go away with or without treatment.

Without appropriate treatment, the infection will progress to the late stages of disease. There is a possibility that symptoms will disappear, but the bacteria will remain in the body if there is no treatment.

Late stages:  About 15% of people who have not been treated for syphilis will develop late stage syphilis.  Late stage can appear anywhere from 10–30 years after the initial infection. Symptoms include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. In the late stages of syphilis, the disease damages the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints and death.

Treatment/ Relief: Syphilis is treatable and can be cured with antibiotics.

What should you know:

Syphilis is most contagious in the  primary and secondary stages. Because of the unethical Tuskegee  experiments conducted on black families from the 1930’s to 1970’s, we know more about syphilis and it’s progression than many other bacterial infections.

How does this impact pregnancy?

A pregnant woman with syphilis can pass the infection to the infant. Infants born with syphilis can have many health problems, such as low birth weight, premature delivery and stillbirth (an infant born dead).