Written on November 28, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by infection with the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Syphilis remains a persistent public health concern in the United States, where the national rate of primary and secondary infections has increased over the past 20 years.
Syphilis infections present with a range of symptoms, involve various diagnostic procedures, and require diverse treatment approaches to address. When you suspect that you may have syphilis, one of the first questions that comes to mind may be, “Can syphilis be cured?” Continue reading to understand the current state of syphilis treatment, and learn what to expect if you get syphilis and ways you can protect yourself in the future.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), syphilis is spread from person to person by direct contact with an ulcer or sore known as a chancre. The most common areas on the body where these chancers form are around the penis, vagina, rectum, anus, and mouth.[1,4] Syphilis is contracted from having skin-to-skin contact with chancres during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Syphilis cannot be transmitted through contact with objects such as toilet seats, swimming pools, or sharing clothing and utensils. Because syphilis sores can be discreet and early detection can be challenging, it is possible to have the STD and not be aware that you are infected.
Before the discovery of antibiotics, there was essentially no effective treatment for syphilis. In 1943, penicillin was introduced as the first effective syphilis treatment. Today, there has been significant progress in enhancing the effectiveness of other classes of antibiotic medications for treating a wide spectrum of bacteria. These advancements in antibiotics have substantially improved the utility and effectiveness of drugs employed to treat syphilis.
If you suspect that you have come into contact with someone who has syphilis, getting treatment early can greatly reduce your time to recovery. Healthcare providers usually prescribe antibiotics, with penicillin G as the first line of treatment.[6,7] The formulation used is a benzathine aqueous preparation.[4,7] The dosage and length of treatment with benzathine penicillin G depends on the syphilis stage and clinical manifestations of the infection. Appropriate treatment with benzathine penicillin G can cure syphilis, but it cannot reverse the damage already done by the bacterium.[4,7] If you are allergic to antibiotics containing penicillin, there are alternative antibiotics, such as doxycycline or ceftriaxone, that a healthcare provider can recommend for treatment.[4,7,8]
Ensuring that you complete the entire prescribed antibiotic from your healthcare provider is crucial for curing syphilis. The antibiotic medication works by eliminating the bacterium causing the infection. Do not skip doses, as it could allow for bacterial resistance. Treating syphilis with antibiotic medication early dramatically decreases your chances of developing severe disabilities from the effects of syphilis and improves overall health outcomes. With the use of the appropriate antibiotic and following the directions as prescribed by your healthcare provider, syphilis is a curable STD.
Having syphilis once does not protect you from contracting the STD again. Even after treatment with antibiotics, you can still contract syphilis. The only way to completely avoid contracting syphilis is not to have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.[1,4] Most people have sex at some point in their lives, so practicing safe sex is essential. Using protection when having sex can lower your risk of an STD. However, if you are sexually active and share multiple partners, the CDC recommends getting regularly tested once a year for STIs. Don't wait for red flags; get tested regularly, especially if you're sexually active or engaging in risky behavior.
Discussing sexual health with your partner is responsible and indicative of a healthy relationship. Know your partner's history, and be open about yours. This will help you reduce your risk of getting syphilis.
Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease caused by Treponema pallidum, remains a persistent public health challenge to this day. Effective treatment is available with antibiotics, specifically benzathine penicillin G, making syphilis a curable disease. Even though syphilis can be cured, you can get reinfected with the bacteria and get the STD again. Practicing safe sex and getting tested for STDs are important prevention practices.
At Everlywell, you have the option to make an on-demand STD appointment if you think you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. You can connect with a certified clinician in less than 2 hours. The telehealth visit will include a 20- to 30-minute video call with a healthcare provider where you can discuss your sexual health concerns and get your questions answered. The healthcare provider will also provide you with personalized recommendations and next steps based on your symptoms and exposure history. This may include additional STD testing or prescription medication.
You also have an option for a syphilis at-home lab test with Everlywell. The at-home lab test will check for antibodies to the Treponema pallidum bacteria. If your test results are abnormal, you can connect with a healthcare provider at no additional cost to discuss your individual case.
Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA received her Doctor of Pharmacy and Master of Business Administration degrees from Wingate University School of Pharmacy. She is a skilled medical information professional with experience in the pharmaceutical industry, pharmacy education, and clinical practice. She has also been a medical writer and editor for consumer health and medical content. Sendra is passionate about translating complex medical concepts into simple and easy-to-understand information.