Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD). An STD is an infection you can get from having sex with someone who is infected. You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex.

You can get syphilis by being in direct contact with someone’s syphilis sore. Sores usually are found on the external genitals or in the vagina, anus or rectum. Sores also can be on the lips and in the mouth.

Without treatment, syphilis can cause serious damage to your heart, brain and other organs.

In the United States, fewer than 1,000 pregnant women are diagnosed with syphilis each year.

Can syphilis cause problems during pregnancy and for your baby?

Yes. You can pass syphilis to your baby through your blood during pregnancy. Up to 2 in 5 babies who get syphilis in the womb (40 percent) die before or after birth. Syphilis can cause your baby to be born prematurely, before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy. Some babies born with syphilis may develop health problems, including:

How do you know if you have syphilis?

The first symptom of syphilis is a small, hard, painless sore called a chancre that usually develops in the genital or vaginal area. If not treated, the infection can cause a rash, fever and other symptoms.

If you’re pregnant, your health care provider checks you for syphilis with a blood test at an early prenatal checkup.

Syphilis usually is treated with an antibiotic called penicillin. Antibiotics are medicines that kill infections caused by bacteria. If you’ve had syphilis for less than a year, a single shot of penicillin usually can cure the infection. But if you’ve had syphilis for longer than a year, you may need more than one penicillin shot. If you’re treated before 26 weeks of pregnancy, your baby is unlikely to get infected with syphilis.

If you think you may have syphilis, tell your health care provider.

How can you protect yourself from syphilis?

Here’s how to protect yourself from syphilis:

  • Get tested and treated. If you find out you have syphilis, get treatment right away.
  • Don’t have sex. This is the best way to prevent yourself from getting an STD, including syphilis.
  • If you have sex, have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners. Use a condom if you’re not sure if your partner has an STD. Ask your partner to get tested and treated for STDs.

Last reviewed May 2013

Most common questions

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (also called mono) is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes caused by another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). EBV and CMV are part of the herpes virus family. Mono is most common in teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it. Mono is called the “kissing disease” because it’s usually passed from one person to another through saliva. In addition to kissing, it can also be passed through sneezing, coughing or sharing pillows, drinks, straws, and toothbrushes.

You can have mono without having any symptoms. But even if you don’t get sick, you can still pass it to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Belly pain
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, tell your health care provider. He’ll most likely do a physical exam and test your blood to find out for sure if you have mono.

There’s no vaccine to prevent mono. There’s also no specific treatment. The best care is to take it easy and get as much rest as you can. It may take a few weeks before you fully recover.

Can Rh factor affect my baby?

The Rh factor may be a problem if mom is Rh-negative but dad is Rh-positive. If dad is Rh-negative, there is no risk.

If your baby gets her Rh-positive factor from dad, your body may believe that your baby's red blood cells are foreign elements attacking you. Your body may make antibodies to fight them. This is called sensitization.

If you're Rh-negative, you can get shots of Rh immune globulin (RhIg) to stop your body from attacking your baby. It's best to get these shots at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of giving birth if a blood test shows that your baby is Rh-positive. You won't need anymore shots after giving birth if your baby is Rh-negative. You should also get a shot after certain pregnancy exams like an amniocentesis, a chorionic villus sampling or an external cephalic version (when your provider tries to turn a breech-position baby head down before labor). You'll also want to get the shot if you have a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or suffer abdominal trauma.

I had a miscarriage. How long should I wait to try again?

Before getting pregnant again, it's important that you are ready both physically and emotionally. If you don't need tests or treatments to discover the cause of the miscarriage, it's usually OK for you to become pregnant after one normal menstrual cycle. However, it may take longer for you to feel emotionally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone responds differently to a miscarriage. Only you will know when you are ready to try to get pregnant again.

Are gallstones common during pregnancy?

Not common, but they do happen. Elevated hormones during pregnancy can cause the gallbladder to function more slowly, less efficiently. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a substance produced in the liver. Bile helps digest fat. When bile sits in the gallbladder for too long, hard, solid nuggets called gallstones can form. The stones can block the flow of bile, causing indigestion and sometimes serious pain. Staying at a healthy weight during pregnancy can help lower your risk of gallstones. Exercise and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, like veggies, fruits and whole grains, can help, too. Symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting and intense, continuous abdominal pain. Treatment during pregnancy may include surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallstones in the third trimester can be managed with a strict meal plan and pain medication, followed by surgery several weeks after delivery.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).