What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection which can be transmitted
person-to-person through close contact with an infected sore, which
usually occurs during vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can also be
transmitted by sharing sex toys or needles with an infected
The bacteria that cause syphilis are called Treponema
Syphilis is a disease of three stages, with distinct
Primary Syphilis (Stage 1)
The first symptom of syphilis is a painless but highly
infectious sore on the genitals, or sometimes around the mouth,
lips, tonsils, fingers or buttocks. The sore usually disappears two
to six weeks after it erupts. Left untreated, syphilis will then
progress to the second stage.
Secondary Syphilis (Stage 2)
Secondary syphilis symptoms include a non-itchy skin rash,
flu-like symptoms, small skin growths around the external opening
of the vagina and/or anus, weight loss, swollen glands and patchy
hair loss. These symptoms typically develop a few weeks after the
sore disappears and may disappear within a few weeks, or come and
go over a period of months. During this stage, syphilis can be
passed on to other people.
Following secondary symptoms, without treatment syphilis
progresses to a symptomless latent (dormant) phase, which may last
for several years. During this phase, the disease cannot be passed
on to other people.
After a period of dormancy, syphilis can develop to the most
Tertiary Syphilis (Stage 3)
Left untreated, approximately a third of people with syphilis
will develop serious tertiary syphilis symptoms, which can arise
years or decades after initial infection.
Depending on what part of the body the infection spreads to
(brain, nerves, eyes, heart, bones, skin, blood vessels), tertiary
syphilis can present with any of the following symptoms:
- skin rashes
- loss of co-ordination
- heart disease
Tertiary syphilis can be fatal.
Primary and secondary syphilis are usually treatable with a
single dose of penicillin, which is injected into the buttock. Some
cases require multiple penicillin injections, which are
administered at weekly intervals.
For those allergic to penicillin, an alternative antibiotic is
prescribed in tablet form.
Tertiary syphilis must be treated with longer courses of
antibiotics, and while treatment can stop the infection, it cannot
repair or reverse the damage that has already been caused.
If your results indicate you may have a blood-borne STI, you
will be contacted directly by the Terrence Higgins Trust, regarding confirmatory
testing, treatment, advice and the availability of other