Syphilis Facts

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) spread by direct contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex. If left untreated, it can cause brain, nerve and tissue damage, and death. Anyone can get syphilis, but in Denver it most common among men who are having sex with men. Here are some quick facts about syphilis in Denver:

Syphilis Is Up!

  • Cases of syphilis in Denver County climbed 75 percent in the last four years to 405 new cases in 2018, according to preliminary estimates.
  • Although there have been an increasing number of syphilis cases in women of childbearing age, men still account for more than 90 percent of new cases.
  • Communities of color, such as Latino and African American, have seen a more than two-fold increase in syphilis diagnoses..

It is very important to be screened for other STDs, including syphilis, every six months.


Primary and secondary symptoms appear between 10 - 90 days of infection and include:

  • A firm, round, and painless sore on the penis, vagina, anus, lips or mouth.
  • Skin rashes or sores in the same areas, or on the hands and feet.

Testing and Treatment 

Syphilis is detected using a simple blood test and is easily curable. Call the Sexual Health Clinic at (303) 602-3540 to set up an appointment. Convenient syphilis testing sites are located throughout the Denver metro area.

We recommend routine testing for:

  • Men who have sex with men (every 6 months)
  • People who have HIV infection (every 3 - 6 months)
  • Pregnant women (at prenatal visit and during third trimester, if have multiple sex partners)
  • People who have partner(s) who have tested positive for syphilis (immediately)

What to do if you test positive

  • Don’t worry. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics.
  • Abstain from sex until sores are healed.
  • Contact all sex partners so they can be tested.

How to protect yourself and others

Syphilis symptoms aren’t always obvious. Protect yourself by:

  • Getting tested routinely for STDs.
  • Always practicing safe sex—talk to your partners about STDs before you have sex and use condoms.
  • Avoiding sex if you see sores or other a rash, especially in the groin area.
  • Having sex in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.

What is the link between syphilis and HIV?

Oral, anal, vaginal, or penile syphilis sores make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection. A person is 2 - 5 times more likely to get HIV if exposed when syphilis sores are present.

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