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Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is passed from person to person through contact with a syphilis sore. The bacteria can be transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Common Symptoms

Syphilis presents symptoms in three main stages, aptly named the Primary Stage, Secondary Stage, and Latent or Late Stage. The STI is treatable at all stages--but without treatment, the infection will continue to progress.

Primary Stage syphilis does not always cause symptoms. However, this stage of syphilis can cause small, firm bumps or sores to appear (or, in some cases, just one bump) at the site of the infection. These bumps are rarely painful and disappear in 3-6 weeks.

Secondary Stage syphilis symptoms take the form of a mild red rash. Other symptoms can include swollen lymph nodes, body aches, feelings of fatigue, weight loss, headaches, fevers, hair loss, or sore throats.

Latent or Late Stage syphilis infections are extremely uncommon, but dangerous. This stage of syphilis (which can take 10-30 years to develop) causes major damage to internal organs. This damage cannot be reversed by treatment, although the syphilis bacteria can be eliminated.

Prevention and Treatment

If you are sexually active, syphilis can be prevented by using condoms and dental dams correctly and consistently.

Infections in the primary and secondary stages can be completely cured by one large dose of penicillin. Infections in the latent or late stages may require three doses of penicillin.

If you are sexually active, it is important that you get tested regularly for STIs including syphilis, even if you do not have any symptoms.

Partner Notification

If you test positive for syphilis, it is important that you notify previous sexual partners so that they can get tested, too. UHS staff can talk you through the partner notification process. UHS also offers resources online to help you talk to your partner about getting tested and seeking treatment.

You can get tested for syphilis and all other STIs at University Health Services. Call (512) 471-4955 or go online to make an appointment. Currently enrolled students are eligible to apply for free STI testing at UHS with the Get Yourself Tested Fund.

Other Sexually Transmitted Infections

Hepatitis B

Healthy Sexuality Links

Healthy Sexuality Topics
Classes and Workshops
Get Free or Low-Cost Condoms
Safer Sex Ambassadors
Contraception for College Students Video Series
Men's Sexual Health
Off-Campus STI / HIV testing locations
Sexual Anatomy
Sexually Transmitted Infections
UHS STI Testing
UHS Sexual Assault Forensic Exams
UHS Women's Health
UHS Lending Library

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