About Syphilis

  • Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is usually passed on through having sex with someone who is infected.
  • It can also be passed from an infected mother to her unborn child.
  • Syphilis is one of the less common sexually transmitted infections in the UK although rates have risen recently.
  • It's more common among men who have sex with men.
  • It's important to get tested and treated as soon as possible if you think you might have syphilis, as it can cause serious problems if it's left untreated.
  • It can usually be cured with a short course of antibiotics but it's sometimes not possible to reverse any damage that's already been done if it's diagnosed too late.
  • You can catch syphilis more than once, even if you've been treated for it before.
  • Syphilis won't normally go away on its own and can cause serious problems if left undiagnosed and untreated.
  • The only way to find out if you have syphilis is to get tested.

Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis

The symptoms of syphilis aren't always obvious and may eventually disappear, but you'll usually remain infected unless you get treated.

Symptoms can include:

  • Primary Syphilis
    A painless but highly infectious sore or ulcer that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, but can occur in other places such as the mouth. This usually lasts two to eight weeks before disappearing, but if the infection isn't treated, it may progress to a second stage.
  • Secondary Syphilis
    Symptoms, such as a skin rash and sore throat, then develop. These symptoms may disappear within a few weeks, after which you experience a latent (hidden) phase with no symptoms, which can last for years. After this, syphilis can progress to its third, most dangerous stage.
  • Late Syphilis
    At this stage, it can cause serious damage to the body, with conditions such as stroke, paralysis, blindness or even death.

Long-Term Effects of Syphilis

  • Without treatment, a syphilis infection can last for years or decades without causing any symptoms.
  • Eventually, it can spread to parts of the body such as the brain or nerves and cause serious and potentially life-threatening problems. This is known as "tertiary syphilis".
  • Congenital syphilis is a severe, disabling, and often life-threatening infection seen in babies whose mother has syphilis during pregnancy

People with tertiary syphilis may experience:

  • Meningitis
  • Strokes
  • Dementia Symptoms
  • Loss of Co-ordination
  • Numbness
  • Vision Problems or Blindness

Syphilis is still treatable at this stage, but it's sometimes not possible to reverse any damage that's already been done.

How do you get Syphilis?

  • Syphilis can be passed on through direct skin contact with someone who has a syphilis rash or sores or during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.
  • A pregnant woman can also pass the infection on to her unborn baby, known as congenital syphilis, which can be very serious.

How do you test for Syphilis?

  • Syphilis can be detected through specific blood tests, which may need to be repeated over a period of time.
  • It may take up to 12 weeks between getting a syphilis infection and when it will show on a blood test.
  • A swab can be taken if there is a sore or ulcer present – you'll need to go to a sexual health clinic for this.
  • Tests are available through sexual health services and are also offered to all pregnant women in the UK.
  • In some areas of the UK, a postal Syphilis test is avaibale via freetest.me.

What is the treatment for Syphilis?

  • If diagnosed early, syphilis can be easily treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin injections.
  • The type of treatment you need depends on how long you've had syphilis.
  • Treatment can stop the infection in the late stages of syphilis, but it cannot repair any damage that has already been caused.
  • Follow-up blood tests will be recommended once treatment finishes to check that it has worked.

About Freetest.me

The freetest.me service offers free chlamydia testing and HIV testing in participating regions. Simply visit freetest.me to see if you're eligible to order a free STI test kit.

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