On This Page
- What is syphilis
- Pregnant people have additional risks
- What are the symptoms
- How to protect yourself
- Local stats and trends
- Testing sites in Tompkins County
- Fact sheets for common STIs
What is syphilis
- Syphilis is a bacterial infection that most often is a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Who is at risk
- People who are sexually active, especially if they:
- engage in high-risk sexual activity: i.e. having sex without a condom, having multiple sexual partners, having anonymous sex, having sex while using drugs
- have HIV or other sexually transmitted infections;
- are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention; or
- have partner(s) who have tested positive for syphilis
Pregnant people: Your baby is at risk
- Pregnant people should be tested for syphilis 3 times during their pregnancy:
- in the first trimester (your doctor is required by NYS to give you this test)
- in the third trimester
- at birth
- Why testing for syphilis is incredibly important:
- Testing during pregnancy: Having syphilis (a positive test) can cause a low-birth-weight-baby and increase the chance the baby will be delivered too early or stillborn.
- Testing at birth: A baby born with a syphilis infection may not have signs or symptoms of disease at birth. However, if the baby does not receive treatment right away, the baby may develop serious health problems within a few weeks, including cataracts, deafness, seizures or death
- Primary stage symptoms include painless sores (called chancres), rashes or lesions. These may begin 10 days after infection and can take up to 3 months to develop. Often these are not noticed by the individual, so the disease progresses untreated.
- Secondary stage symptoms can appear when the primary symptoms are not detected and so not treated. Most common is a rash on different parts of the body, but may also include tiredness, fever, sore throat, headaches, hoarseness, loss of appetite, patchy hair loss and swollen glands.
- Late stage symptoms include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia, and can be life threatening.
How to protect yourself and help prevent the spread
- Those at high-risk should test early and test often.
- If you are pregnant, request testing for syphilis if it is not automatically offered.
- If you test positive, share information about recent sexual partners with your healthcare provider to assist with contact tracing efforts to reduce the spread.
- If you test positive, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible and follow your course of treatment to completion
How soon do symptoms appear
- Symptoms can appear from 10 to 90 days after a person becomes infected, but usually within three to four weeks.
- Symptoms are often not noticed or are thought to be minor abrasions or heat rash and medical care is not sought.
When and for how long is a person able to spread syphilis
- Syphilis is considered to be communicable for a period of up to two years, possibly longer. This depends on the existence of infectious lesions (sores), which may or may not be visible.
- There is no natural immunity to syphilis and past infection offers no protection to the individual.
What is the treatment
- Syphilis is treated with the antibiotics penicillin or tetracycline.
- Pregnant people with a history of allergic reaction to penicillin should undergo penicillin desensitization followed by appropriate penicillin therapy.
- A baby born with the disease needs daily penicillin treatment for 10 days.
What are the complications associated with syphilis
- Untreated syphilis can lead to destruction of soft tissue and bone, heart failure, blindness and a variety of other conditions which may be mild to incapacitating.
- A person with untreated syphilis may transmit the disease to their unborn child, which may result in death or deformity of the child.
- Physicians and hospitals are required to test pregnant people for syphilis at prenatal visits. Tests of newborns or their mothers are required at the time of delivery.
Testing sites in Tompkins County
- Your Primary Care Provider
- Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD)
- For everyone.
- Free anonymous HIV testing only.
- Results available in 20 minutes.
- Phone (607) 274-6604. Click for Web site.
- Planned Parenthood of Greater New York
- For all Tompkins County residents.
- Free, confidential testing and treatment at the PPGNY Ithaca office, 620 West Seneca St. (Made available by the Tompkins County Health Department)
- Testing for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HepC, HIV, and Syphilis
- Phone (607) 273-1513. Click for PPGNY's Ithaca Clinic Web site
- REACH Medical
- STAP — Southern Tier AIDS Program CLICK HERE for their website
- Cornell Health, Cornell University
- Comprehensive sexual health care for students, including free & confidential STI testing.
- Phone (607) 255-5155. Learn more.
- Hammond Health Center, Ithaca College
- For Ithaca College students only.
- STI education; testing available.
- Phone (607) 274-3177
- TC3 Health Center
- No on-site STI testing available.
- STD education and referrals only.
- Phone (607) 844-8222 x 4487
Common STIs: Fact sheets
- Genital Warts
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Human Papilloma Virus
- NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH) STI web page
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) STI Web page