Syphilis is an infection that spreads easily through anal, vaginal and oral sex and can seriously damage your heart, brain and nervous system. It’s easy to treat and cure with antibiotics.
Syphilis has three stages, each with its own different symptoms:
- Ten days to three months after you become infected a painless sore (called a ‘chancre’) may appear where the infection is. This is usually on the penis or vagina, in the mouth or around the rectum, some people get several sores
- Glands in your neck, groin or armpits may swell.
- The sores are very infectious. They heal after about two to eight weeks and disappear.
If untreated, infection may go into the 2nd stage.
- A blotchy rash on your body, often on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet.
- Patchy hair loss.
- White patches in your mouth.
- Growths like genital warts appearing near the anus in men and women and also near the vulva in women.
The rash and growths are infectious.
You might also feel like you have flu, with a fever or headache, and swollen glands, and suffer weight loss.
- Syphilis can go on to cause serious damage to your heart, brain, bones and nervous system, years later, this damage can be life-threatening.
- You could experience stroke, blindness, heart problems, dementia and loss of coordination.
- It can still be treated at this stage, but it might not be possible to repair damage that has been done.
Syphilis bacteria is spread through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex. You can also contract it through a sore on someone’s body in the first stage, or a rash on someone’s body in the second stage.
Testing is done through a blood test or swab test. A swab test takes a small sample of fluid from any sores. A physical exam to check your genitals or other parts of your body for sores may also be a routine part of your test.
Treatment for syphilis are antibiotics. These are usually given by a single injection or a short course of tablets.
You need to avoid any sexual contact – anal, vaginal or oral – until at least 2 weeks after your treatment has finished, to make sure the infection does not return or spread. It’s best to wait until you’ve had a test and know the treatment has worked.