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Ask Dr. K

Can syphilis be detected if I don't have any symptoms? How is it treated?

There are many stages to syphilis, a bacterial sexually transmitted infection. Typically, during the first stage, a small, painless sore or chancre appears on the site of exposureógenitals, mouth, anus--some 7 - 21 days after sex. The sore can last up to two weeks. Most of the time, you don't even notice the sore, especially if it's in your ass or inside the vagina. Once the sore disappears, during the second stage, you may get a rash, feel sick with fever and have swollen glands. The rash often shows up on the palms of the hands and can last weeks to a couple of months. After the first two stages, there may not be any other symptoms until the disease has progressed pretty far along. About 25% of persons who remain untreated get late stage syphilis with damage to the brain, body organs and heart.

If caught early, syphilis is curable with a shot of penicillin. Syphilis can almost always be detected with a simple blood test. An experienced doctor can recognize the signs and symptoms but syphilis is still pretty rare so most doctors will miss it.

We recommend that every gay man or man who has sex with men get a syphilis test every 3-6 months.

For detailed information about syphilis transmission, graphic photos and descriptions of each stage, click here.

To your health,
Dr. K

Last modified on Monday, September 13, 2010.
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