Syphilis

STI Testing and Treatment During COVID-19

If you have STI symptoms or were exposed to an STI, call your health care provider or use your clinic’s online portal. Your provider may be able to prescribe oral treatment based on your symptoms or exposure without having you visit the clinic in person. If you do not have a health care provider, you can call the NYC Sexual Health Clinic Hotline.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many clinics and community organizations are open for business and can help you get STI testing and treatment. Always call ahead to confirm they are providing the services you need.

If you received medicine or a prescription from a sex partner who was recently diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis, please review Information for People Exposed to a Sexually Transmitted Infection: Getting Treatment without Seeing a Doctor during the COVID-19 Outbreak (PDF, April 19).


Syphilis is a bacterial infection that spreads through vaginal, anal and oral sex. It can also be passed from a pregnant person to their baby. Syphilis can spread through kissing if there are syphilis sores in the mouth or on the lips.

If left untreated, syphilis can damage your heart, brain and nervous system, and eventually lead to death. Having syphilis also makes it more likely to get or spread HIV.

Prevention

Condoms and dental dams can prevent the spread of syphilis, but only if they cover the sore. Having multiple partners increases your risk of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including syphilis.

Symptoms

Most people with syphilis do not notice any symptoms. Symptoms include:

  • Painless, open sores called chancres. These can occur on skin that is exposed during sex (penis, vagina, genitals, anus or mouth).
  • Rash, especially on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
  • Patchy hair loss.
  • Fever.
  • Swollen lymph glands.
  • Weight loss.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Fatigue.

Symptoms eventually disappear with or without treatment. Without treatment, the infection stays in the body and can be harmful.

Testing

Your health care provider will test for syphilis with a blood sample.

Treatment

An injection of antibiotics is the best treatment for syphilis. Your health care provider will give you at least one injection (sometimes up to three injections). The full treatment is needed to clear the infection.

You should be retested after three months to make sure that the infection has cleared.

Sex Partners

Your sex partner(s) also need to be treated so that they do not develop serious health problems, re-infect you or pass the infection on to others. You should tell all of your sex partners from the previous three to 12 months about your infection so that they can see a health care provider. Your health care provider will help you determine which partners you should contact.

Syphilis in Pregnancy

All pregnant people should be tested for syphilis and other STIs, including HIV, as early as possible in pregnancy. A pregnant parent with syphilis can pass the infection to their baby during pregnancy. This is called congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis can cause:

  • Stillbirth.
  • Premature birth.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Death shortly after birth.

More Information