Syphilis

Is a bacterial infection.

How is it passed on?

  • syphilis can be pass on through oral, vaginal or anal sex. It can also be passed from mother to child at birth.

How to avoid Syphilis?

  • condoms are very effective at preventing syphilis infection. You can order male and female condoms here

  • regular testing each time you change sexual partner helps reduce the spread of STIs.

Testing and treatment

The Fettle test kit

The test for syphilis is a blood sample.

You can watch the blood test instruction video and follow this link to see the instruction leaflet that comes in the kit.

Syphilis may take twelve weeks to show up in a test from the time of infection – this is called a ‘window period’. If you are in any doubt about window periods, you should do a test now, and another test at a later date.

Treatment

Syphilis is treated effectively by antibiotic injections or tablets. The length of treatment depends on the stage of infection.

As soon as your test results become available, we will send you a text message to let you know how to get treatment. If you have an infection, one of our clinicians may call you to discuss treatment.

Telling your partner

If you have syphilis, you should tell all of your current partners and anyone else that you have had sex with in the last six months, or since your last negative syphilis test. They may have syphilis without knowing it, so it is important for them to be tested.

Symptoms and long term effects

Syphilis has three stages; primary, secondary and latent. Symptoms depend on the stage of the infection.

CommonRare
Short term

Primary syphilis causes an ulcer at the site of infection and swelling of lymph glands. This occurs within the first three months of infection. The ulcer is highly infectious but it is painless and usually disappears without treatment, or may not be noticed at all.

Long term

Secondary syphilis can cause skin problems (usually a rash) and swelling of lymph glands anywhere in the body. This usually occurs within the first 6 months of infection. The rash will get better without treatment.

Latent syphilis is what happens more than two years after infection. If left untreated at this stage people may experience serious consequences at this stage, when syphilis can affect bones, skin, heart or central nervous system and may be life threatening.

Questions

People who have previously had syphilis will typically always return a positive result for an antibody test.

If you have previously received treatment for syphilis we recommend that you seek an RPR test at a clinic or your GP - an RPR test will indicate if you have a new syphilis infection.

No, Syphilis does not affect fertility in men or women.

Your partner will be able to tell if you have symptoms but not if you do not. However, you should tell your partner if you have Syphilis as it is important they get tested and get treatment if required.

Syphilis can develop in 3 stages:

  • primary syphilis
  • secondary syphilis
  • latent syphilis.

You may not have any symptoms in the early stages of syphilis. However if you do get symptoms you may see:

Primary syphilis

  • one or more ulcers on the genital area, or in the mouth (if contracted through oral sex). The sores are commonly painless
  • these sores are very infectious and can take 2-6 weeks to heal.

Secondary syphilis

If untreated syphilis progresses to the second stage:

  • painless non-itchy rash which can spread all over the body, but is most often seem on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet
  • flu like illness, tired, loss of appetite, swollen glands.

Latent syphilis

This occurs when you have had syphilis for many years or when syphilis remains untreated (which is very rare):

  • can cause serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes and nervous system
  • at this stage syphilis can be life threatening.