Late Syphilis: Care Instructions

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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a type of bacteria. In rare cases, syphilis can be spread in ways other than sexual contact. For example, if you have syphilis during pregnancy, you could pass it to your baby.

If syphilis isn't treated in an early stage, symptoms may go away but the infection is still in the body. This is called latent syphilis. Later, the disease can turn into late (or tertiary) syphilis. Syphilis can damage different parts of the body, including the heart, nerves, and eyes. It can cause death.

Treatment with antibiotics will kill the syphilis bacteria and may prevent more damage. You'll need blood tests after treatment to make sure that the bacteria have been killed. You also may need treatment for problems caused by syphilis.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get your antibiotic shots or take your pills as directed. Do not stop them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Do not have sexual contact with anyone while you are being treated. Even if you use a condom, you and your partner may pass the infection back and forth.
  • Tell your sex partner or partners that you have syphilis. They should get treated, whether or not they have symptoms of infection.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new fever that lasts more than 48 hours after you start treatment.
  • You have new numbness or tingling.
  • You have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You have a headache, stiff neck, or any changes in your vision or hearing.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.
  • Your symptoms continue or come back after treatment, or new symptoms develop.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.