What is syphilis?

Syphilis is an STD that, if not treated carefully, can be dangerous and cause long-term problems. For adults, syphilis is divided into four symptom stages: primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, latent syphilis, and late-stage syphilis. In this article, we will provide information on these stages as well as answer some common questions about syphilis.


How do people get syphilis?

Syphilis is spread through physical contact with a syphilis sore, which are most commonly found on the external genital areas, inside the vagina, beneath penis foreskin, on or around the anus, or in the rectum. Syphilis can also be spread from mother to child during a pregnancy.


How do I avoid syphilis?

The best way to avoid syphilis is to practice abstinence or use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, every time you have sex. Additionally, it is wise to limit your number of sexual partners and ensure that any partners you engage in intimacy with have been tested for STDs.


Am I at risk for syphilis?

Anyone who is sexually active, especially anyone that is not using a barrier method of contraception, is at risk for syphilis or another STD/STI.


What do syphilis symptoms look like?

Several symptoms of syphilis may resemble the symptoms of other STDs. In fact, syphilis is sometimes referred to as “the great imitator”. Syphilis may appear differently depending on the symptom stage:

  • In primary syphilis, a sore called a chancre may appear on the skin where the bacteria has entered. This sore is usually painless and can be mistaken for an ingrown hair or pimple.
  • In secondary syphilis, you may experience a wide range of symptoms including rash, fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, weight loss and muscle aches.
  • In latent syphilis, you may not experience any symptoms but can still spread the infection to others through sexual contact.
  • In late-stage syphilis, serious damage can occur to the heart, brain and other organs which can result in paralysis, blindness and even death if left untreated.


How can syphilis affect an unborn baby?

If a pregnant woman has syphilis, it can be passed to her unborn baby through the placenta. This is known as congenital syphilis and can cause serious health problems in the baby, including stillbirth or death shortly after birth. Additionally, the baby can experience vision and hearing problems, seizures, mental delays and deformities in their bones.


Should I get tested for syphilis?

Yes. It is important to get tested for syphilis if you believe that you may have been exposed to the infection, as early detection is the best way to avoid the long-term damage of untreated syphilis. It is also a good idea to get tested regularly if you are sexually active, as many people with syphilis do not experience any symptoms and may not know they are infected. At RealOptions, we provide testing for several STDs/STIs, including syphilis. We have clinics located in Central San Jose, East San Jose, Union City, Oakland, and Redwood City, so we’re always close by. Click here to schedule a test at one of our locations.


What is the testing process like for syphilis?

At RealOptions, our testing process for syphilis is simple and straightforward. We use Quest Diagnostics for the lab work and will provide you with the required lab requisition on your first visit. Depending on the results, we may recommend follow-up testing or further consultation. Our staff is available to answer any questions you may have about our testing process or syphilis itself, so please don’t hesitate to ask us for more information.


How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis is easy to treat with antibiotics if it is caught early. Penicillin is the most commonly prescribed antibiotic for syphilis. It’s important to take all doses of medication as directed in order to fully clear the infection, prevent bacterial resistance to treatment, and reduce the risk of long-term damage.


What happens if syphilis isn’t treated?

Untreated syphilis can cause additional problems. If syphilis goes untreated during any of the symptom stages, it can spread to other parts of your body:

  • When syphilis spreads to your brain and nervous system, it is known as neurosyphilis. This can cause severe headaches, muscle weakness, confusion, personality changes, and even dementia.
  • Syphilis that has spread to the eye is called ocular syphilis and may cause eye pain/redness, damage to your vision, or blindness.
  • If syphilis spreads to your ear, it is called otosyphilis, which may cause hearing loss, ringing/buzzing in the ear, tinnitus, dizziness, or vertigo.


Can I get syphilis again?

Yes, you can get syphilis again if you are re-exposed to the infection, regardless of whether your previous infection was treated or not. It is important to continually practice safe sex and to get tested regularly.


If I have syphilis, what do I tell my sexual partner(s)?

It is important to tell any current and recent sexual partners about your diagnosis so that they can get tested for syphilis as well. If you are unsure how to approach this conversation, our staff at RealOptions can provide guidance and support. We understand that these conversations can be difficult, but it is essential in order to protect the health of everyone. 


Is testing and treatment covered by Medi-Cal?

RealOptions Obria Medical Clinics is an Medi-Cal provider, which means our STD/STI testing services for syphilis performed by Quest Diagnostics are covered by Medi-cal. If you test positive for syphilis, RealOptions will refer you to your county health department for specialized treatment.

Not sure what Medi-Cal is? It is low-cost or no-cost health insurance for California residents that meet certain eligibility requirements. If you have a Medi-Cal plan, you can get tested at RealOptions for syphilis and other STDs/STIs with no or low cost to you. There are a few ways to find out if you qualify for Medi-Cal coverage if you’re not enrolled already:

  1. Contact MCAP at (800) 433-2611.
  2. Call Covered California at (800) 300-1506.
  3. Apply online at CoveredCA.com. via email with a confirmation or notification for the best available time.


I think I might have syphilis. What should I do?

You owe it to yourself to take your health and safety seriously. Ignoring syphilis can be extremely dangerous. If you think you may have been exposed, you should get tested right away. At RealOptions Obria Medical Clinics, we can help.

Schedule an appointment for STD/STI testing today or call:


400 30th St #401
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 891-9998

801 Brewster Ave Unit 21
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 261-9115

1671 The Alameda #101
San Jose, CA
(408) 978-9310

12 N White Rd
San Jose, CA
(408) 272-5577

33523 Western Ave.
Union City, CA 94857
(510) 487-4357


Medical information regarding syphilis is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm (last pulled 11/28/2022)

https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/treatment.htm (last pulled 11/28/2022)

https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-congenital-syphilis.htm (last pulled 11/28/2022)

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