updated 2 years ago in HIV and STIs

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What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria, which can affect anyone.

How do you get syphilis?

Syphilis is highly infectious and can spread through sex. This includes oral sex, anal sex, arse play, vaginal or front hole sex, fingering or fisting.

Syphilis can also spread through contact with an infected area of skin.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Some guys will have no symptoms at all.

If you do have symptoms, they can appear between 10 days and three months after exposure. Symptoms can vary depending on how long you have had syphilis. These may include:

  • a small round sore (called a chancre) — which could be either painful or painless — on your mouth, penis, balls, arse, vagina or front hole that will usually last a few weeks before disappearing
  • a rash on the body, often including the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet
  • fever
  • headache
  • aching joints
  • fatigue
  • swollen lymph glands

How do I get tested for syphilis?

A syphilis test has a ‘window period’ of up to three months. This means syphilis may not show up on a test if you have been exposed to it within the last three months.

A syphilis test involves a blood test. If you have a sore, your doctor may also take a swab from it.

You can get tested by your regular doctor or at a sexual health service.

Once you get syphilis, it will always show up in your test results, even if you have been treated before. If you have had syphilis before, always tell your doctor when you get another syphilis test.

How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis requires medical treatment as it will not go away by itself.

Syphilis is usually treated with penicillin injections. Alternative treatment options are available for guys who are allergic to penicillin.

In complex cases, your doctor may need to treat it with a longer course of injections and antibiotics.

Avoid sex for one week after treating syphilis to prevent it from spreading to any other partners.

Contact previous sexual partners to let them know they may have been exposed to syphilis and should get tested.

After treating syphilis, you can still get syphilis again in the future.

What are the best ways to prevent syphilis?

Condoms help protect against syphilis, but it is still possible for syphilis to spread even when you’re using barrier protection.

One of the best ways to help stop the spread of syphilis and other STIs is to get tested regularly and treated if necessary.