Syphilis Remains Health Concern


This week is National HIV Testing week, but syphilis continues to be a public health problem. In the U.S., the number of reported cases increased 11.8% between 2005 and 2006. In 2006, health officials reported over 36,000 cases of syphilis. The incidence was highest in women 20 to 24 years of age and in men 35 to 39 years of age.

Syphilis is caused by the Treponema pallidum bacterium. Like HIV, it is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Like all STIs it can be transmitted by genital, oral, and anal sex.

Syphilis is a disease that was close to being eliminated as a public health threat less than a decade ago. Over the past decade, it has increased and remains a serious threat to the health. Syphilis is of particular concern because it can facilitate HIV transmission.

Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages. As with HIV testing it is important to be tested early if you participate in any of thes following behaviors:

* Have injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, works) with others
* Have had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners
* Have exchanged sex for drugs or money
* Have been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), like syphilis
* Have had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions

A single intramuscular injection of penicillin will cure a person who has had syphilis for less than a year. Other antibiotics are used for those allergic to penicillin. There are no home remedies or over-the-counter drugs that will cure syphilis. See your physician early if you suspect you may have an STI.


The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.

Correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of syphilis, as well as genital herpes and chancroid, only when the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected.

Any unusual discharge, sore, or rash, particularly in the groin area, should be a signal to refrain from having sex and to see a doctor immediately.

Related articles

Syphilis Makes a Comeback Among STDs

Syphilis, an Old Disease Remains Health Issue

National HIV Testing Day is June 27th

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
JAMA (for pictures of the rashes and lesions)