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Syphilis treatment, diagnosis & prescriptions

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Can I talk to a doctor on Maple about my syphilis?

Yes. It’s possible for a Maple doctor to determine whether or not you have syphilis by learning about your symptoms, ordering tests, and gathering relevant information about your sexual history. From there, the doctor will be able to recommend treatment options and prescribe medication.

The doctor may also request that you go to a clinic to undergo further STD testing if they suspect you may be at risk of having other infections.

Can I get a prescription on Maple?

Yes, our physicians can prescribe medications online during your consultation. Once you accept a prescription, you’ll have the option to pick it up from any pharmacy or to have it delivered right to your door at no additional cost.

You can visit our How it Works page to learn more.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that spreads through sexual contact (an STI), or close skin to skin contact with an infected person. The bacteria that causes syphilis is called treponema pallidum.

What are the stages of syphilis?

Syphilis affects the body in stages. Not everyone experiences the stages in the same order, and sometimes, symptoms from different stages can happen all at once.

Primary Stage: The primary stage begins at the moment of infection, though syphilis has an incubation period of about 3 weeks (and up to 90 days). It’s defined by the presence of a syphilis chancre, which is a sore that appears on the genitals of the infected person. The sore is a painless bump (in some cases it may be a wet sore), so it can easily go unnoticed, or be mistaken for something else like an ingrown hair. On men, the chancre often appears on the penis, but it can also appear on the scrotum. Women may develop a chancre on the vulva or vagina, or sometimes, deep inside their cervix. Both men and women can develop chancres in their rectums, and rarely, in their mouths. Swelling of the lymph nodes in areas near the chancre are a clue that you may have syphilis.

During this stage, a person with syphilis is extremely contagious. The sore clears up on it’s own in about 3 weeks, but that doesn’t mean the person is syphilis free.

Secondary Syphilis: The secondary stage starts around 2-8 weeks after the primary stage, and symptoms may appear, heal, and reappear for years.

During the secondary stage, a syphilis rash usually develops on the inside of an infected person’s hands, the soles of their feet, and occasionally on other body parts. It’s reddish brown, and can sometimes be so faint it isn’t noticeable — especially since it’s not usually itchy either. It usually heals on its own in about 8 weeks.

A healed rash doesn’t mean a person no longer has syphilis. And during the secondary stage, like the primary stage, a person with syphilis is highly contagious.

Latent Syphilis:This phase is also sometimes called the hidden phase, because at this point, people with syphilis no longer have a chancre or rashes. There are no evident symptoms of syphilis.

But the treponema pallidum bacterium that causes the syphilis infection is still at work in the body. During this phase, symptoms may not reappear for as long as a year. In some cases, syphilis may remain latent in a person’s system for up to 20 years. This gravely increases the chances of long-term illnesses related to syphilis, like neurosyphilis and cardiovascular syphilis.

Not everyone with syphilis experiences this stage. With regular testing with early treatment it can be avoided.

Tertiary Syphilis: This stage occurs in 15% to 30% of people who contract syphilis if they don’t receive treatment. At this advanced stage, damage may be done to the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, the liver, bones, and joints. It’s the most dangerous stage of syphilis because it can leave the most long-lasting effects. More on the symptoms of this stage below.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis symptoms are different in each of the four stages of syphilis, and don’t always happen in the same order. Sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they don’t occur at all. A person may have syphilis for years with little indication that anything is wrong.

Primary Phase: Syphilis symptoms in women during this phase include a syphilis chancre (sore) on the vagina, cervix, or vulva (and rarely, in the mouth). In men, syphilis symptoms during this phase include a syphilis chancre on the penis, scrotum or inside the anus

Secondary Phase:

  • A rash with reddish brown bumps on palms and the soles of the feet, or elsewhere on the body
  • Sores (condylomata lata), in the mouth, vagina, penis or anus
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Weight Loss
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Nervous system malfunctions like paralysis, and stiffness in the neck and back

Latent Phase: In the latent phase, there are no symptoms.

Tertiary Phase:

  • Gumma: lumps or sores on the body, bones and organs
  • Cardiovascular syphilis, resulting in diseased heart valves and inflamed blood vessels
  • Neurosyphilis, resulting in problems with the nervous system like numbness, brain inflammation, or spinal cord inflammation (syphilis back pain)
  • Stroke
  • Deafness
  • Visual impairment or blindness
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Dementia
  • Aneurysm: a bulge in a blood vessel in the brain that can leak, causing a stroke
How do you get syphilis?

Syphilis transmission occurs during sexual contact, or skin contact with an infected person. Risk factors for contracting syphilis include:

  • Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • Sex with multiple partners
  • Sex with a person who has syphilis
  • Being a man that has sex with men
  • Being HIV+
  • Childbirth: congenital syphilis occurs when a mother with syphilis transfers it to her newborn.
How is syphilis diagnosed?

If your symptoms indicate you may have syphilis, it can be diagnosed with a blood test. If the doctor thinks your nervous system may be affected, a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid might also be tested.

How can I prevent syphilis?

Syphilis prevention, like most STI prevention, involves safer sex practices.

  • Use condoms and dental dams during sex
  • Limit your number of intimate partners
  • Ensure that you and your partners have regular STD tests
  • Avoid sex with someone who has syphilis or is undergoing treatment for it
Can syphilis be cured?

Yes, it is possible and highly recommended that you rid your body of syphilis once you are diagnosed. The long term health complications that result from untreated syphilis can be irreversible.

How can I treat syphilis?

If syphilis is caught in the primary or secondary stage, a doctor may prescribe penicillin to be taken orally or intravenously as syphilis treatment.

Another commonly prescribed drug to treat syphilis is doxycycline. If doxycycline treatment begins in the early stages of syphilis, it’s usually taken orally for 14 days. Treatment during the later stages of syphilis may require more of the antibiotic. In those cases, it’s prescribed for 28 days. This treatment is recommended to people with a penicillin allergy.

Penicillin is the preferred treatment for pregnant women. Pregnant women with a penicillin allergy can be introduced to treatment slowly over time to avoid triggering a reaction.

Can I die from syphilis?

Untreated syphilis can lead to life-threatening complications that affect your heart, nervous system, and even your mental health. Regular testing and early intervention are great ways to protect yourself and your partners.

What are syphilis complications if left untreated?

Without treatment, the bacteria that causes syphilis will never leave your body, leading to a wide range of long term complications.

Syphilis complications include:

  • Increased risk of HIV: the syphilis chancre (sore) that appears in the early stages provides a more direct path for HIV to enter the body through the broken skin.
  • Gummas: small bumps of dead tissue that appear under the skin, on organs and bones, and inside the mouth on the palate.
  • Neurosyphilis: where the infection spreads to the nervous system. Neurosyphilis symptoms include chronic headaches, stroke, vision loss, loss of physical sensation, meningitis (brain inflammation), dementia, and paralysis.
  • Childbirth complications: it is possible to pass syphilis on to a newborn during labor, a condition called congenital syphilis.
  • Heart disease: syphilis can cause an inflamed aorta, which can rupture and cause internal bleeding.
What is Maple?

With Maple, you can start talking to a doctor about your symptoms in a matter of minutes. We’re a healthcare app for fast, convenient 24/7 access to Canadian doctors.

You simply log in, tap a button to request a consultation, and we’ll immediately connect you to a doctor via live chat or video. You can visit our How it Works page to learn more.

Our doctors can assess symptoms, and provide treatment, including prescriptions as necessary.

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