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What Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection. Left untreated syphilis can cause damage any part of the human body, including, the eyes, brain, heart, liver and nervous system but this can be prevented by early treatment.

How do I know if I have syphilis?

Many people with syphilis have no symptoms to. This is why it is important to get a test if you think you may be at risk of getting syphilis.
Initial signs include an ulcer or a sore, usually painless, starting a few weeks after unprotected sex. These usually develop on the penis, the vulva, the edge of the anus and the mouth. These sores will heal by themselves but this does not mean that the infection has gone.

Some people with syphilis feel quite unwell. They get a generalised rash, a fever and swollen glands. This stage usually comes after the sore, and can last for several months. The sore has usually healed by the time the rash shows itself but sometimes they come together. Some people might experience problems with their hearing or their sight but this is less common.

These two early stages (the sore and the rash) of the infection are the most infectious period and it is still possible to infect someone even if you had no signs or symptoms. The risk of infecting others is possible for up to two years after catching it if no treatment has been given.

How do I catch syphilis?

Syphilis is passed on by any sexual contact, including oral sex. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her unborn child, and from exposure to infected blood.

Syphilis can affect anyone who is sexually active although it is most common among men who have sex with men. Anyone who has ever had unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex is potentially at risk

What tests should I have?

The best way to know if you have syphilis is through a syphilis blood test.
If you have a sore or ulcer at the time you see the doctor, tests can be done to see if the syphilis organism is present in the ulcer.

How is it treated?

Syphilis is treated with injectable penicillin into the muscle around the buttocks. Early stages of infection require only one dose of the antibiotic but later stages will require three doses at weekly intervals.
If you are pregnant or think you might be, tell the doctor, so the safest treatment option is used for you. Syphilis must be treated if you are pregnant as if left untreated there is a risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects if the baby survives.

Can I catch syphilis again?

Yes. After diagnosis and treatment you do not get immunity. It is possible to get re-infected if you have unprotected sex with someone who has syphilis.

How can I prevent getting re-infected?

Condoms, when used consistently and correctly, reduce this risk of syphilis transmission although they cannot completely prevent it.