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Syphilis has long been a global health issue affecting millions of people. Through the centuries, it's had many names, including the "great pox" and "great crippler." Penicillin treatment is credited with decades of decline in syphilis cases, but infection rates are on the rise. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s an infection increase among women and their newborns, and men who have sex with men.
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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.