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Syphilis screening

Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is a bacterial infection spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person. Syphilis develops in stages that can last for weeks, months, or even years. The stages may be separated by long periods of apparent good health.

Who is at risk

Any sexually active person can get syphilis through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Symptoms

Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is a bacterial infection spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person. Syphilis develops in stages that can last for weeks, months, or even years. The stages may be separated by long periods of apparent good health.

What you can do

The only way to avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you are sexually active, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting syphilis:

  • Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested for syphilis and does not have syphilis.
  • Using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex.

Preventive service at no cost

Asymptomatic, nonpregnant adults and adolescents who are at increased risk for syphilis infection

The USPSTF recommends screening for syphilis infection in persons who are at increased risk for infection.

Pregnant women

The USPSTF recommends early screening for syphilis infection in all pregnant women.


Why screening is important

An infected person is often unaware of the disease and unknowingly passes it on to his or her sexual partner. Syphilis tests can help diagnose syphilis in the early stages of infection, when the disease is easiest to treat. If treated too late, there may be permanent damage to the heart and brain even after the infection is destroyed.

Syphilis can be passed from a mother to her unborn baby. A syphilis infection can cause serious, and sometimes deadly, complications to infants.

What the screening is

A syphilis test is usually in the form of a blood test.

Treatment

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Antibiotic treatment for later-stage infections can stop the disease from getting worse, but it can't undo damage already done.

Additional tips

Having syphilis once does not protect you from getting it again. Even after you’ve been successfully treated, you can still be re-infected.