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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. It can spread from person to person during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. Syphilis can also be spread from a mother to her unborn baby.


  • A painless sore on the penis, scrotum, vagina, cervix, anus or mouth
  • Rashes on the body (especially on the palms of hands and soles of feet)
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Alopecia (loss of hair form the head or body)
  • In late syphilis, the brain and heart may be affected

Symptoms usually appear 1-2 weeks after being exposed to syphilis.

How would I know if I have syphilis?

  • If you have a sore on your genitals, get an STD examination.
  • A blood test for syphilis is usually performed.
  • You could have syphilis and not know it.
  • Anytime you have tests for other STDs, be sure to ask for a syphilis blood test.

How is syphilis treated?

  • Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. Penicillin “shots” are usually used.
  • A single “shot” is often adequate during the early stages of syphilis. Multiple “shots” are used during later stages of the disease.
  • Other antibiotics may be used in people who have an allergy to penicillin.
  • The Southeast STD Clinic will test, diagnose, and treat syphilis free of charge.

How can I avoid getting syphilis?

  • Avoid unprotected sex. Always use a condom.
  • Avoid infection by having one sexual partner.

If you have questions or think you may have syphilis, stop having sex and come to the DC Health and Wellness Center for a FREE and CONFIDENTIAL assessment.