What is it?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is caused by a bacterial infection and can cause serious health problems if left untreated. However, it is easy to cure if found early.
What are the symptoms?
Syphilis develops in stages, and symptoms vary with each stage. But the stages may overlap, and symptoms don’t always occur in the same order. You may be infected with syphilis and not notice any symptoms for years. ###Primary syphilis The first sign of syphilis is a small sore, called a chancre (SHANG-kur). The sore appears at the spot where the bacteria entered your body. While most people infected with syphilis develop only one chancre, some people develop several of them. The chancre usually develops about three weeks after exposure. Many people who have syphilis don’t notice the chancre because it’s usually painless, and it may be hidden within the vagina or rectum. The chancre will heal on its own within three to six weeks. ###Secondary syphilis Within a few weeks of the original chancre healing, you may experience a rash that begins on your trunk but eventually covers your entire body — even the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. This rash is usually not itchy and may be accompanied by wart-like sores in the mouth or genital area. Some people also experience hair loss, muscle aches, a fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. These signs and symptoms may disappear within a few weeks or repeatedly come and go for as long as a year. ###Latent syphilis If you aren’t treated for syphilis, the disease moves from the secondary to the latent (hidden) stage, when you have no symptoms. The latent stage can last for years. Signs and symptoms may never return, or the disease may progress to the tertiary (third) stage. ###Tertiary (late) syphilis About 15 to 30 percent of people infected with syphilis who don’t get treatment will develop complications known as tertiary (late) syphilis. In the late stages, the disease may damage your brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints. These problems may occur many years after the original, untreated infection. ###Congenital syphilis Babies born to women who have syphilis can become infected through the placenta or during birth. Most newborns with congenital syphilis have no symptoms, although some experience a rash on the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet. Later symptoms may include deafness, teeth deformities and saddle nose — where the bridge of the nose collapses.
Syphilis can’t always be prevented, but if you’re sexually active you can reduce your risk by practising safer sex: * use a male condom or female condom during vaginal, oral and anal sex * use a dental dam (a square of plastic) during oral sex Notifying sexual partners
- Avoid any kind of sexual activity or close sexual contact with another person until at least two weeks after your treatment finishes.This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as close skin contact.
- Avoid sharing sex toys – if you do share them, wash them and cover them with a condom before each use
Things to watch out for
Syphilis won’t normally go away on its own and can only be treated with a course of antibiotics or an injection of antibiotics prescribed by GP. Speak to your GP for a blood test or a swab test.