CONGENITAL SYPHILIS IS ON THE RISE.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. Congenital Syphilis occurs when a pregnant woman transmits syphilis to their unborn baby, and new infections are rising; from 11 diagnosed cases in 2021 to 22 cases in 2023. This is a 100% increase.

Through sex. Sex is the most common way people get syphilis. You can get syphilis by having contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Syphilis is easy to miss because sores might be hidden, especially in the vagina, anus, or mouth. Syphilis sores are also easy to miss because they don’t hurt, so it’s not always clear when you might have them.

During Pregnancy. A pregnant individual can transmit syphilis to their unborn baby during pregnancy. Syphilis is curable and congenital syphilis is preventable. If you are pregnant, get tested and treated. For more information about congenital syphilis, click here.

Get tested regularly. Regular testing can detect STDs even if you have no symptoms..

Know the symptoms. If you notice an unusual sore or rash on your body or on a partner, or experience vision or hearing problems, hold off on sex until you or your partner can get tested and treated. 

Use condoms. Condoms help protect you and your partner(s) from HIV, syphilis, and other STDs. When it comes to syphilis, the condom must cover the actual sores to prevent transmission. Condoms can protect areas of the vagina, penis, and anus. But condoms may not prevent you from getting syphilis from sores on other areas of your partner’s body.

More partners = more risk. Having sex with more people increases the risk of getting an STD. A monogamous relationship can reduce your risk for syphilis or STDs. If you are not having sex, you cannot get syphilis.

Congenital syphilis can impact the health of your baby. The effects of congenital syphilis on your baby’s well-being depends on how long you’ve had syphilis and if you’ve been treated.

Congenital syphilis can cause:

  • Miscarriage (losing the baby during pregnancy)
  • Stillbirth (birth of a deceased baby)
  • Prematurity (birth before full term)
  • Low birth weight
  • Death shortly after birth
  • Deformed bones
  • Severe anemia (low blood count)
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Brain and nerve problems such as blindness or deafness
  • Meningitis
  • Skin rashes

More Facts – Public Health-Seattle & King County

GET TESTED. GET CURED.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Symptoms of syphilis can be easy to miss or mistake for something else. Even if you don’t notice symptoms, or if the symptoms go away on their own, you can still have syphilis. Regular STD testing can help catch syphilis before it gets too serious.

Different stages, different symptoms. Syphilis goes through four stages if left untreated. Regular testing for STDs can help catch syphilis early. However, it’s important to be aware of what each stage looks like so you can seek treatment.

Primary Syphilis

The first stage is called primary syphilis. It occurs 10-90 days after infection. In this stage people develop a painless sore (called a chancre) where the bacteria that causes syphilis enters the skin. This could be on the vulva, vagina, mouth, lips, tongue, anus, rectum, and penis. The sore goes away on its own without treatment. As a result, many people don’t notice this stage. But don’t ignore the sore! Even if it goes away, syphilis is still in your body. Be sure to get treated as soon as you notice it!

Secondary Syphilis

The second stage is called secondary syphilis. It occurs several weeks after when the sore of primary syphilis is healing. In this stage people can get a reddish-brown, spotted rash on the palms of the hands or bottoms of the feet. Additionally, the rash can appear on the chest, stomach, back, arms, and legs. People with secondary syphilis may also develop white spots in their mouths, patchy bald spots, and/or fleshy bumps that occur in the skin folds. Some people have flu-like symptoms like fever, fatigue, aches, and swollen glands. Even without treatment, secondary syphilis will also resolve on its own.

Latent Syphilis

No symptoms:  After secondary syphilis, the infection enters the latent stage where there are no symptoms. Although there are no symptoms, you will remain infected if you don’t get cured.

Tertiary (Late) Syphilis

Finally, after two to three decades, syphilis enters the tertiary stage. Most people do not experience tertiary syphilis. If it does occur, it will severely affect organ function. It is important to know that syphilis can also affect the eyes, ears, and brain at any stage, especially early syphilis.

GET TESTED.

If you’re sexually active, make syphilis testing part of your routine just like testing for HIV and other STDs.

It’s a simple blood test used to detect syphilis antibodies. Pregnant women should all get tested in their first and third trimesters to prevent transmission to the baby.

If you’re pregnant, get tested during the 1st and 3rd trimester and at the time of delivery to protect your health and your newborn’s health.

If you are a sexually active heterosexual woman or man, get tested for syphilis and other STDs at least once a year, but every three months if you: 

  • use injection drugs
  • use methamphetamine or nonprescription opioids
  • are unhoused or without shelter
  • trade sex for money, drugs, or other items
  • have ever been to jail or prison
  • have had syphilis in the last 2 years

Where can I get prenatal care and tested for syphilis?

Public Health offers First Steps which is a two-part program that provides prenatal care and testing at these locations. Cost varies.

Seattle / Shoreline / Skyway

Prenatal Care Sites Phone Number
Aurora Clinic (206) 715-5793
Colombia Public Health Center (206) 296-4650
High Point at Neighborcare (206) 461-6950
SHE Clinic (206) 702-8460

South King County

Prenatal Care Sites Phone Number
HealthPoint (Auburn) (206) 263-2460
HealthPoint (Des Moines) (206) 870-3588
HealthPoint (Kent) (206) 263-2460
HealthPoint (SeaTac) (206) 477-1870

East King County

Prenatal Care Sites Phone Number
Eastgate Public Health Center (206) 477-8000
HealthPoint (Bothell) (425) 486-0658
Totem Lake- Allegro Pediatrics (425) 814-5170

GET CURED.

There is a cure for syphilis, and congenital syphilis is preventable. The sooner you get treated, the easier it is to cure. Delaying treatment can lead to serious health conditions for you and your baby. If you’re pregnant, get tested and treated for syphilis immediately.

If you have syphilis avoid having sex until you are cured. Tell your sex partners so they can also get tested and cured. Do not have sex with a partner who has syphilis until they are cured.

Can I get syphilis again after I’ve been cured?

Yes. Having syphilis once does not protect you from getting it again. If your partners have not been cured, they can re-infect you. 

If you are sexually active and you notice a sore, a rash, changes in your vision, or any other syphilis symptoms, GET TESTED RIGHT AWAY! Syphilis is curable. And, it’s easier to treat the earlier it’s caught!