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Syphilis

Syphilis can be passed from one person to another during sex and by direct skin contact with someone who has syphilis sores or rash. It is cured by using a taking of antibiotics.

What is it?

A bacterium called Treponema pallidum causes syphilis.

How do I catch it?

Syphilis can be passed on through direct skin contact with someone who has syphilis rash or sores or during unprotected sex.

A pregnant woman can also pass the infection on to her unborn baby, known as congenital syphilis. This can be very serious and so if you are pregnant, you will be offered a routine antenatal screen.

What symptoms could I have?

Syphilis develops in three stages. Many people don’t notice any symptoms in the early stages but if you do have symptoms, you might see the following:

First stage syphilis:

One or more sores on your genital area. These can also appear in the mouth if you have had oral sex.

These sores are highly infectious and might take two to six weeks to heal.

Second stage syphilis:

If first stage syphilis is left untreated, the second stage usually occurs some weeks later. You might notice:

  • White patches on the roof of your mouth or tongue.
  • Flat, warty looking growths on the vulva and around the anus. These are often mistaken for genital warts.
  • A painless rash that is not normally itchy and can spread to all over the body. It is often seen on the palms of hands and soles of feet.
  • Patchy hair loss.
  • A flu-like illness including loss of appetite and tiredness, along with swollen glands. This can last for weeks or months.

Third stage syphilis:

When syphilis remains untreated for many years, it becomes third stage syphilis. The infection can start to cause very serious damage to the brain, nervous system, heart and eyes. At this stage syphilis can be life-threatening. This is why it is important to get tested for syphilis as soon as possible after unprotected sex, so that it doesn’t progress to this stage.

How do you test for it?

Syphilis is tested for by collecting a swab from an ulcer and a blood test. This can be done in your sexual health clinic. The result will be available to you within two weeks.

Remember to make sure that your partner(s) also get tested.

You can use the service finder to find a testing service near you.

How do you treat it?

A course of antibiotic tablets/capsules or injections are used to cure syphilis. You will be given the tablets or capsules if you are allergic to penicillin injections.

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