Risk and Testing

Syphilis Risks & Testing

Am I at risk for syphilis? 

Anyone can get syphilis by having vaginal, oral or anal sex with someone who has syphilis. If you are sexually active, talk to your doctor about getting tested for syphilis and other STIs.  You should get tested regularly for syphilis if you are sexually active and 

  • Are a gay or bisexual man 
  • Have HIV 
  • Are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention 
  • Have a partner who has tested positive for syphilis 

Someone who is pregnant and has syphilis can transmit syphilis to their unborn baby. All pregnant women should receive syphilis testing at their first prenatal visit. Pregnant women who are at higher risk for syphilis should also be tested during the third trimester (at 28 weeks) and at delivery. 

Some of the things that can put you at higher risk for syphilis include: 

  • Having sex while drunk or high 
  • Having a new sex partner 
  • Having more than one sex partner 
  • Exchanging sex for money or drugs 
  • Having another STI 
  • Having a partner with an STI 
  • Late or no prenatal care 
  • Living in an area with high syphilis incidence

I’m pregnant. How does syphilis affect my baby? 

If you are pregnant and have syphilis, you can give the infection to your unborn baby. Having syphilis will make it more likely you will deliver your baby too early or stillborn (a baby born dead). Your baby can also have a lower weight at birth. To protect your baby, you should get a syphilis test at least once during your pregnancy. Receive treatment right away if you test positive. 

 At birth, a baby with a syphilis infection may not have any signs or symptoms of syphilis. But if the baby does not receive treatment right away serious health problems may follow within a few weeks. Babies with syphilis can have health problems like cataracts, deafness, seizures, damage to their internal organs, bones and teeth. These babies can also die from the infection. 

 Learn more about congenital syphilis by reading the CDC fact sheet.

How will I or my healthcare providers know if I have syphilis? 

Most of the time, healthcare providers will use a blood test to test for syphilis. Some will diagnose syphilis by testing fluid from a syphilis sore. 

Where can I get tested? 

Talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested for syphilis.  Free and low-cost testing is also available in health department and other testing locations in Virginia.