How Is Syphilis Transmitted?

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  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women who fall under certain categories must undergo another syphilis screening test during the third trimester (28 to 32 weeks gestation) and again during delivery
  • Untreated syphilis in pregnant women results in nearly 40 percent of cases of infant death

Syphilis can be transmitted via direct contact with a syphilis sore (called a chancre) or syphilis rash during vaginal, anal or oral sexual intercourse. Syphilis sores can be found on or around the penis, vagina or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips or in the mouth. In other cases, syphilis can be transmitted through sharing sex toys with a partner, via a blood transfusion or from direct unprotected contact with an active lesion, such as during kissing.1,2,3,4

People can transmit syphilis without knowing they have the STD, since symptoms can be mild and people may not notice or recognize these indicators. Syphilis can also be passed after symptoms have disappeared. Take note that a person cannot be infected with syphilis through:

Hugging

Sharing clothing or towels

Using swimming pools, bath tubs or hot tubs

Sitting on toilet seats

Touching doorknobs

Sharing cups, plates or cutlery

Syphilis Can Be Passed on During Pregnancy

In some cases, pregnant women with syphilis can transmit the STD to the unborn baby, raising the risk for the child to be infected with a disease called congenital syphilis. This is why pregnant women are advised to be tested for syphilis at least once, particularly during the first prenatal visit, to hopefully protect the baby and lower the risk of syphilis. Should the pregnant woman test positive for syphilis, immediate treatment is crucial.5,6

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women who fall under these categories must undergo another syphilis screening test during the third trimester (28 to 32 weeks gestation) and again during delivery:

  • Women with a high syphilis risk
  • Women who live in areas of high syphilis morbidity
  • Women who were previously untested for syphilis
  • Women who had a positive screening test during the first trimester

The CDC also notes that women who delivered a stillborn infant after 20 weeks of gestation should be tested for syphilis. Depending on the amount of time she has been infected, a pregnant woman with syphilis has a higher risk of delivering a baby with low birth weight, or delivering a baby prematurely, stillborn or a baby who dies shortly after birth.

Beware: Syphilis Can Be Dangerous in Babies

Take note that an infected baby may be born without signs of this illness. If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems in a baby within a few weeks.

In some cases, this STD can also lead to the baby's death. Untreated syphilis in pregnant women results in nearly 40 percent of cases of infant death. As such, all babies born to mothers who tested positive for syphilis during their pregnancy must be screened for this disease and examined thoroughly for symptoms of congenital syphilis.

MORE ABOUT SYPHILIS

Syphilis: Introduction

What Is Syphilis?

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Congenital Syphilis

Syphilis Stages

Syphilis Causes

Syphilis Transmission

Syphilis Symptoms

Syphilis Treatment

Syphilis Testing

Syphilis Prevention

Syphilis FAQ

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