Currently Montana is experiencing an increase in syphilis cases. So far this year, we have had 34 cases of primary or secondary syphilis, which equates to 1 new case per week. This increase is being seen across the United States. In Montana, if numbers continue to rise, we will double the number of syphilis cases compared to last year.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacteria which is spread through direct contact with sores/lesions or the blood of an infected person.  Maternal-fetal transmission is another way syphilis can be transmitted. Syphilis has three distinct stages and treatment depends on the stage of syphilis.


Primary stage symptoms include:

Usually a single chancre (painless ulcer) appears where the bacteria entered the body.  Since it is painless sometimes the chancre goes unnoticed.  The chancre will resolve by itself without treatment, if untreated the infection will progress to the secondary stage.

Secondary stage symptoms include:

A rash usually on the palms of hands and soles of feet with swollen lymph nodes is characteristic of the second stage.  If left untreated syphilis will progress to the third stage.

Late stage symptoms:

Untreated syphilis may be silent for many years.  It can progress to central nervous system symptoms including:  difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness and/or dementia.  Syphilis can cause serious disability and even death.


Syphilis is detected by testing sores and with blood tests. AIDS Outreach offers free rapid testing with a finger stick.

Pregnant women can pass syphilis on to the fetus, causing sickness and sometimes death. Therefore, the CDC recommends that all pregnant women get tested for the disease.


Syphilis is treated with antibiotics.


The CDC recommends the correct and consistent use of condoms to reduce the spread of STDs.