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Syphilis

What is syphilis?
What are the symptoms of syphilis?
How is syphilis spread?
How can I keep from getting syphilis?
If I’ve been exposed to syphilis, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
What treatments are available for syphilis? How serious is the disease?
How many cases of syphilis have been reported in Northern Kentucky?
Where can I get more information on syphilis?

What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. The signs and symptoms of syphilis can appear to be an unrelated disease, lending syphilis its nickname of the great imitator.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?
Many people with syphilis have no symptoms for several years and are thus unaware of their condition.

In the primary stage of infection, usually a single sore, but possibly several, will develop called a chancre, appearing at the spot where syphilis entered the body. The chancre is round, small, firm and painless and will last three to six weeks and will heal without treatment.

If treatment is not administered in the primary stage of infection, the disease enters the secondary stage. A rash will begin to develop on one or more areas of the body, usually as rough, red or reddish brown spots on the palms of the hands and the bottom of the feet.

In addition to rashes, symptoms of secondary syphilis may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. These will go away eventually without treatment, but withouth treatment, the disease will progress to the latent stage.

The latent stage affects around 15 percent of those with the disease who never received treatment and can appear 10 to 20 years after initial infection. During the latent stage, signs and symptoms of the disease include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, tumors, and dementia, and can be fatal.

How is syphilis spread?
Syphilis is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis chancre, which is usually found on the penis, vagina, anus or in the rectum. Transmission occurs during vaginal, oral or anal sex. Pregnant women can pass the disease on to their child during the pregnancy.

How can I keep from getting syphilis?

If I’ve been exposed to syphilis, how long will it take for symptoms to develop?
The initial symptoms of syphilis can occur between 10 and 90 days after exposure (average time is 21 days).

What treatments are available for syphilis? How serious is the disease?
Syphilis is curable and easy to treat. A single shot of penicillin (or other antibiotics if the person is allergic to penicillin) will cure a person who has had infection for less than a year. If a person has been infected for more than one year, multiple doses of penicillin (or other antibiotics) are required.

How many cases of syphilis have been reported in Northern Kentucky?
Cases of syphilis have been increasing in Northern Kentucky. In 2010, a total of 25 cases were reported; 34 cases were reported in 2011 and 44 in 2012.

Several Northern Kentucky ZIP codes have higher rates of syphilis. Those include: 41011, 41018, 41071 and 41073. Sypilis rates are also high in the Cincinnati area.

Northern Kentucky syphilis cases are fairly evenly split among men and women.
 
Where can I get more information on syphilis?
For more information online, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or call the Health Department at 859.363.2070.

Sources: Northern Kentucky Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention