Syphilis

What is Syphilis?

This is a bacterial infection that can originally infect the genitals or the oral cavity but can then spread through the body if not treated.

It is transmitted through all types of sexual contact including oral sex and has three main stages.

The UK has seen a large increase in syphilis cases in the last 15 years!!

What are the symptoms?

Stage 1: Occurs up to three months after being in contact with someone who has the infection and usually causes an ulcer. This could be inside the vagina, back passage (anus) or mouth so would not always be noticed. It may or may not be painful and will disappear without treatment and the person moves on to stage two…

Stage 2: The bacteria spreads into the body and the person may notice a rash (maybe everywhere but sometimes just on the palms and soles), hair loss, fevers, feeling unwell, gland swelling, more ulcers, lumps in between the buttock cheeks or armpits.

This can happen up to two years after infection. The person is still infectious if they have sex with another person at this stage!

Things go quiet after this, sometimes for many years…

Stage 3: This happens years after infection and can affect the brain, heart, skin, bones and other organs. The person isn’t infectious to another through sex at this stage.

Also: A mother can infect her unborn child and this is why all pregnant women are screened for syphilis in the UK.

How is it diagnosed?

It is diagnosed usually by a blood test but this can take UP TO three months to show up (the incubation or window period).

The bacteria can sometimes be seen under a microscope but not if the sores are in the mouth or bum.

What is the treatment?

It is treated by penicillin injections (the best treatment) or an alternative if you are allergic.

Your partner will need treatment.

You will need to be followed up after your injections.

Sometimes you may need other investigations depending on the stage of your infection – this will be discussed with you at the clinics.

Useful information

For more information visit the FPA website.