When diagnosed and treated in its early stages, syphilis is easy to cure. The preferred treatment at all stages is penicillin, an antibiotic medication that can kill the organism that causes syphilis. If you're allergic to penicillin, your doctor will suggest another antibiotic.
A single injection of penicillin can stop the disease from progressing if you've been infected for less than a year. If you've had syphilis for longer than a year, you may need additional doses.
Penicillin is the only recommended treatment for pregnant women with syphilis. Women who are allergic to penicillin can undergo a desensitization process that may allow them to take penicillin. Even if you're treated for syphilis during your pregnancy, your newborn child should also receive antibiotic treatment.
The first day you receive treatment you may experience what's known as the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. Signs and symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, achy pain and headache. This reaction usually doesn't last more than one day.
After you're treated for syphilis, your doctor will ask you to:
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- Have periodic blood tests and exams to make sure you're responding to the usual dosage of penicillin
- Avoid sexual contact until the treatment is completed and blood tests indicate the infection has been cured
- Notify your sex partners so that they can be tested and get treatment if necessary
- Be tested for HIV infection
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- Hicks CB. Diagnostic testing for syphilis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 28, 2013.
- Roett MA, et al. Diagnosis and management of genital ulcers. American Family Physician. 2012;85:254.
- Ho EL, et al. Syphilis: Using modern approaches to understand an old disease. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2011;121:4584.
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