• Mayo Clinic Minute

    Mayo Clinic Minute: Syphilis surge is cause for concern

Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that cases of syphilis continue to rise in the U.S. This is while rates of other forms of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are flat or declining.

Learn more about what syphilis is, what the symptoms are and how it can be prevented in this Mayo Clinic Minute.

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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Dr. Stacey Rizza, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic, says syphilis affects men and women — and can present in various stages.

"Primary syphilis causes an ulcer, and this sometimes isn’t noticed because it’s painless and can be inside the vagina or on the cervix. After a few weeks, two months, they can get secondary syphilis, which is a rash."

It may then progress to latent-stage syphilis and, finally, the most serious stage: tertiary.

Pregnant women are not immune to syphilis. Congenital syphilis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or infant deaths. That’s why all pregnant women should be screened.

Syphilis is preventable and treatable. Since the 1940s, penicillin has been the best treatment. As for prevention, Dr. Rizza recommends barrier protection during sex — including oral, anal and vaginal sex.

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