Sexual health questions: Syphillis

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that causes the formation of sores, called chancres, around the oral, genital and anal areas.

Cases of this potentially life-threatening disease are on the rise in the UK. Therefore, you should get tested if you have has a new sexual partner or any reason to think that you might be infected.

How can I catch Syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which means that it is mainly spread during oral, vaginal or anal sex, or by sharing sex toys with an infected person. It is also possible to contract the infection through sharing infected needles (e.g. during drug use) or receiving a blood transfusion from infected blood; however, the latter is very rare in the UK as all donated blood samples are screened for Syphilis.

What are the symptoms and signs of Syphilis in men and women?
The first symptoms of Syphilis can appear 10−90 days (21 days on average) after infection. Even if no symptoms are present, the infection can still be transmitted to another person.

For many people, symptoms can include:

  • A chancre or sore
  • Body rash
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Head ache
  • Sore throat.

There are three stages of Syphilis infection: primary, secondary and latent. Primary is marked by a sore/chancre that, if left untreated, progresses to the secondary stage, resulting in rashes, fever, swollen glands, sore throat, hair loss, headaches and muscle aches. If the infection remains untreated, it reaches the latent stage and damages internal organs including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and/or joints.

STI / STD facts from Tocolo Health and Wellbeing Clinic

If left untreated, Syphilis can eventually lead to heart and sight problems. However, it is easily curable with antibiotics if you are tested and treated early enough.

Did you know? STI / STD facts from Tocolo Health and Wellbeing Clinic

How can Syphilis be tested / checked?
If you have symptoms (i.e. sores), a swab test is performed. If you do not have any symptoms but are concerned about being infected with Syphilis, a blood sample is collected. Results from a blood test are available within 1 working day after receipt of your sample at our laboratory. You can also have an instant test with results available in around 20 minutes.

Information about STIs / STDs from Tocolo Health and Wellbeing Clinic, Watford

Here’s our information pages about STIs / STDs

Herpes 1 & 2      
Hepatitis B      
Hepatitis C      

What are the risks if Syphilis is left untreated?
Untreated cases of Syphilis can be fatal. A person infected with Syphilis has an increased risk of contracting other STIs including HIV.

For pregnant women, untreated Syphilis can lead to further complications, including miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths or death of new-born babies. There are also risks of deformities, delays in development or seizures along with many other problems such as rash, fever, swollen liver and spleen, anaemia and jaundice. Congenital syphilis in babies might cause irreversible health problems or death in as many as 40% of all live babies born to women with an untreated infection.

Therefore, it is important to get tested regularly and to treat the infection when present.

What if I test positive for Syphilis?
Syphilis is an infection that can usually be cured with antibiotics. Your clinician will be able to prescribe the most appropriate antibiotic for you, depending on how far your infection has progressed. It is important to get tested and treated as soon as possible to avoid Syphilis advancing to a later stage, which may be harder to cure and could have irreversible effects on your health.

Following treatment, you should avoid sexual activity or close sexual contact for at least 2 weeks to avoid transmitting the infection to another person. You should also contact your previous partners to notify them about your result as he/she may also need to get tested.

You should be aware that repeat Syphilis tests after successfully completing treatment may still indicate the presence of antibodies even when your primary infection has been successfully treated.

We hope our syphilis sexual health questions were helpful.