Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), is caused by a slow growing bacteria called Treponema pallidum.  While it has been around for centuries, it’s been in recent news due to an increased number of cases nationwide, including Maine. Perhaps you’ve seen some of the headlines or Center for Disease Control (CDC) advisories:  

From the Washington Post: Syphilis cases are surging:  Should I be worried

From the Maine CDC: A Health Advisory

Last year Maine had 112 reported cases with more infections in young women and also a case of congenital syphilis.  For these reasons, and because untreated syphilis can cause serious chronic disease, the CDC has now recommended testing for syphilis in all patients who seek any STI screening.  You may know that the CDC guidelines advise annual screening in certain individuals but some folks should be screened more frequently.  Are you higher risk?  Go to this link to review risk factors.   

What are the symptoms?  Can’t I just watch for symptoms?  Symptoms depend on the stage of syphilis infection and can mimic other diseases – hence the Great Pretender nickname.  Symptoms can be very mild, or more noticeable, and progress in a stepwise fashion: initially there may be a painless sore at the site of infection such as the mouth, penis, vagina or rectum that lasts for a few weeks. A rash and flu like symptoms may follow and last a few weeks.  If not discovered and treated during this time, the infection invades other organs resulting in serious chronic disease. 

There is no vaccine against syphilis and immunity is not built up against it so you can get it more than once.  Careful and consistent full screening is very important. 

Fortunately, syphilis is treatable with an antibiotic if caught early; but without treatment it becomes a chronic infection.  Syphilis is also: 

  • preventable through risk reduction (such as 100% use of condoms, etc).
  • detectable through a blood test which you can get at local clinics, through your PCP, and at USM’s Health Services on the Gorham and Portland campuses. 

Did you know that Health Services provides comprehensive care that includes sexual health care?    We offer:

  • FREE condoms
  • STI screening, testing, treatment
  • Birth Control – education about methods; prescriptions; refills
  • Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV
  • Treatment of yeast infections, STI infections, vaginal infections
  • Pregnancy testing and counseling
  • Emergency Contraception counseling and referral
  • Pap Testing
  • Inclusive, equitable care to all

To request full STI screening, call us at 780-5411, drop by, or reach out to us at University Health Services  – we are always happy to help.  

For more information on: 

Sexual health visit:   

CDC guidelines:  

The Mayo Clinic STI information

Planned Parenthood –

           Lynn Howard, FNP-C


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here