Syphilis is Spreading

You could have syphilis and not know it.

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North Carolina's syphilis rates surged 547% between 2012 and 2022. Congenital syphilis (mother-to-baby transmission during pregnancy) is also surging. 

Left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems and even death. 

Protect yourself and others—get tested, treated and cured.

Find free testing near me

Can't find a site? Contact your local health department.

Syphilis is spreading. And it's serious.

Syphilis is a treatable sexually transmitted infection (STI). Sometimes it's also called a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Untreated syphilis can cause sores and rashes. As it progresses, it can permanently damage your body. The brain and nervous system, vision and hearing, and vital organs are at risk.

Syphilis in Pregnancy

If you're pregnant and have syphilis—even if you don't know it—you can pass it to your baby. This is called congenital syphilis.

These cases are rising in North Carolina, leading to stillbirths and neonatal deaths.

You can prevent it and protect your baby

Congenital syphilis resources for providers

Frequently Asked Questions about Syphilis

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You can get syphilis through direct contact with an infected sore during vaginal, anal or oral sex. The sores can be painless, so you or your partner may not even know if either of you have it.

Syphilis can also spread during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant and have syphilis, you can pass it to your unborn baby.

You cannot get syphilis through:

  • Casual contact with objects like toilet seats or doorknobs,
  • Use of swimming pools, hot tubs or bathtubs, or
  • Sharing clothing or eating utensils. 

The only way to completely avoid STIs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

If you are sexually active:

  • Both you and any partners should get tested regularly.
  • Know your partner's status before having sex. Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship lowers your risk.
  • Use condoms the right way every time you have sex. 

If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant:

  • Get tested at least three times during your pregnancy:
    • During your first prenatal visit,
    • Between 28-30 weeks gestation, and
    • At delivery
  • If you test positive, get treated with antibiotics as soon as possible. Be sure sexual partners also get tested and treated to avoid reinfection.

Early symptoms include painless sores and rashes. There are four stages of syphilis, and each stage can have different signs and symptoms. 

Some people live for years without symptoms while the disease progresses.  

If you have health insurance

Health insurance plans must cover syphilis testing for adults at higher risk for syphilis and all pregnant people. 

Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get tested at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.  

If you don't have insurance/testing isn't covered by your plan

Free syphilis testing is available. If you can't find a site near you, contact your local health department.

Find a testing site near you

You may also qualify for Medicaid, which covers STI tests. More North Carolinians are now eligible for Medicaid.

How to apply for Medicaid

Get treated

Syphilis is curable with antibiotics. Work with a healthcare provider for proper treatment. 

Getting treated for syphilis does not prevent you from getting it again. After treatment, practice safe sex and ensure you and your partner regularly get tested. 

Prevent the spread

Do your part to prevent the spread by notifying your sexual partners. You can send an anonymous text through TellYourPartner.org

We can help

Public health staff reach out to help ensure people who test positive get the care they need. Staff can also help notify partners. 

Learn more about public health outreach for communicable diseases

The NC Division of Public Health maintains STD fact sheets and shares quarterly and yearly data reports.

Still have questions?

Get more answers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Syphilis Fact Sheet