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What is it?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection. If left untreated syphilis can cause damage to the nerves, bones, skin, eyes, and brain.

How do you get it?

  • Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.
  • Skin-to-skin contact with the sore or rash.
  • From mother to baby before birth.

Someone can pass on syphilis for up to two years after they become infected—even if they have no symptoms. When there are no symptoms, the infection can be passed on through contact with infected body fluids, like cum.

Signs and symptoms

Some people never develop symptoms and in others it’s easy for the early symptoms to go unnoticed. Syphilis has infectious and non-infectious stages.

Stage one (infectious):

  • Sore (chancre) on the skin, which is not painful. It is raised and red and can be commonly found on the genitals, on the penis and in the vagina, anus, mouth and throat.
  • The sore usually turns into a scab and heals after two to six weeks but the infection remains. Only areas covered by condoms, gloves or dams are protected from infection.

Stage two (infectious):

  • Seven to ten weeks after infection some people then develop a rash on the torso (body), hands or feet.
  • Symptoms may also include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, muscle aches and tiredness. These may last up to a few months and then disappear.

Stage three (non-infectious):

  • If left untreated, syphilis remains in the body. It stops being infectious to sexual partners after about 2 years.
  • During the non-infectious stage syphilis may begin to damage the body’s internal organs, which may include the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, liver, bones, joints and blood vessels.
  • Damage may be serious enough to cause insanity, paralysis and death.


The usual test for syphilis is a blood test. It can take up to three months after exposure for the infection to show up in the blood test.

Once someone has been infected with syphilis most future blood tests will show up as positive—even if they have been successfully treated. A particular test is used to identify a new infection, as well as to see if treatment has worked.


Syphilis is treated with injections of antibiotics. The duration of treatment depends on the stage of infection and ranges from between 1 and 30 days. Treatment is often provided if you have had contact with someone who has had syphilis to prevent it developing in you.


Do not touch the active sores—they are infectious. Wash your hands straight away after contact. Instead of oral, vaginal or anal sex, offer alternative services such as hand relief where you can protect yourself with gloves. If you do decide to provide sex or oral, you can reduce the chance of infection by using condoms and lube for sex, and condoms for oral.