Syphilis can be transmitted through both contact with syphilitic lesions (including hand to genital) as well as with vaginal and anal sex. It is estimated that 80,000 people are infected with syphilis each year. However, the actual number of cases may be higher.
Symptoms of syphilis can occur between 10-90 days after exposure. Syphilis occurs in three stages: the primary stage, secondary stage, and the late/latent stage. Symptoms associated with the primary stage of syphilis includes the development of a painless ulcer, referred to as a chancre, which is usually located on the external genitalia on women. However, it may also occur in the vagina or on the cervix. Men may notices the ulcer on the penis and scrotum. This lesion usually resolves 2-6 weeks after it appears.
If left untreated, the symptoms associated with the second stages of syphilis may appear. Symptoms associated with the second stage of syphilis include rash over the body, especially on the palms, soles of the feet, and mucous membranes. Infected persons may notice enlargement of the lymph nodes, spotty baldness, and condyloma latum. If left untreated, these symptoms too will resolve in 2-6 weeks. The late/latent stage has very few observable symptoms. However, it is during this time that damage to the brain and other major organs is occurring.
Long term complications of syphilis include severe neurological dysfunction and possible heart problems. Fortunately, syphilis is treated rather easily with a one time injection of an antibiotic. Women’s Health, as well as the general medical side of Student Health does provide blood testing for syphilis.
While many students are at a low risk for contracting syphilis, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends it be included in routine STI testing for all sexually active adults.
We would also recommend that you be tested if: you have vaginal or anal sex with someone while in another country, have ever had sex with a male or female prostitute, have sex with someone in the drug community, or have any of the above mentioned symptoms.