Syphilis is a serious sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is caused by a bacterium. Syphilis can infect both a woman and her baby during pregnancy.
Syphilis is less common than other STIs in the United States. In 2002, health officials reported over 32,000 cases of syphilis.
Syphilis begins with a painless sore, often in the genital or vaginal area. Sores can also appear on the anus, in the mouth or on the lips. Weeks or months later, infected persons can develop a rash, fever and other symptoms. If the disease is untreated, the heart, brain and other organs can be damaged.
Health care providers diagnose syphilis by examining material from a sore under the microscope. Blood tests are also used.
Syphilis is treated with antibiotics.
Most pregnant women are tested for syphilis at an early prenatal visit. A single injection of penicillin can cure syphilis if the woman has had the infection for less than one year. Older infections require more treatment.
If a pregnant woman has syphilis and she is not treated, her baby can become infected and may even die. Infected babies who are not treated soon after birth are at risk for serious health problems, including brain damage and blindness.
What you can do
Ask your health care provider to screen you for syphilis early in pregnancy. This is usually done routinely as part of prenatal care. If you do have syphilis, you can get antibiotics to treat the infection. This will help protect both you and your baby.
Be sure your partner is also screened.
While you're pregnant, you can avoid syphilis by not having sex. If you do have sex:
- Have sex with only one partner who is only having sex with you, has been tested for syphilis and is uninfected.
- Use a latex condom.
For more information
- CDC information line
In English and Spanish
TTY for the deaf and hard of hearing (888) 232-6348
- American Social Health Association