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It could be syphilis

What is syphilis?

This is an STI caused by bacteria. It has become less common in South Africa over the past 10 years, but about 1.6% of pregnant women in 2011 had syphilis when they were tested at the beginning of pregnancy.

How can I catch syphilis?

You can get infected with syphilis by having unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex, or by kissing someone who has a syphilis sore on their mouth. You can pass syphilis on without knowing you have it because symptoms can be mild and you may not notice or recognise them.

What does syphilis look like?

Syphilis usually starts by causing painless sores or rashes on the skin, which can become serious if left too long. If you have syphilis and leave it untreated over months to years, it can also cause serious damage to the heart, skin, brain and other organs.

How is syphilis treated?

If you are diagnosed with syphilis, this STI will be treated using an antibiotic injection called penicillin. If you are allergic to penicillin, you can be treated with another antibiotic called doxycycline, for at least two weeks.

How do I test for syphilis?

If your healthcare provider is worried you have syphilis, they will do a simple blood test.

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Syphilis in pregnancy

If you fall pregnant and have undiagnosed syphilis, it can cause miscarriages, premature births and stillbirths. It is also possible for an infected pregnant woman to give syphilis to her baby, resulting in many health problems in the baby, including early death in newborns. Because of the health problems of syphilis in babies, all pregnant women in South Africa undergo two tests for syphilis, during the course of their pregnancy.

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