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Everything You Need To Know About: Syphilis

Alice MayflowerSexual Health

This document is designed to be a first stop brief overview of everything you – as a performer/individual – needs to know about Syphilis.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a “sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria. It can be serious if it’s left untreated or passed on to a baby during pregnancy or childbirth.”

How can you catch syphilis?

There are a number of different ways in which syphilis can be transmitted and “caught” by an individual, these include:

  • Syphilis is usually spread by contact between moist skin areas anywhere on or inside the body.
  • Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex (without a condom)
  • Kissing or licking the anus
  • Sharing sex toys that aren’t washed or covered with a new condom each time they’re used
  • Your genitals coming into contact with your partner’s genitals – this means you can get syphilis from someone even if there is no penetration, orgasm or ejaculation

It is also important to highlight that certain activities are considered to be higher risk for contracting syphilis, these include:

  • Being a man who has sex with men – Three-quarters of the syphilis cases diagnosed in England are gay men (and other men who have sex with men).
  • Having had sex overseas
  • Having had multiple sexual partners

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Symptoms may not be obvious straight away and a person could be infected for some time before symptoms appear, so regular testing is advised.

However some of the main symptoms to look out for are:

  • A painless ulcer (sore) on the penis, vulva, mouth or anus.
  • A rash over your entire body
  • A rash affecting the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet.
  • Wart-like growths around the anus or vulva
  • Any unusual unexplained symptom such as headaches, loss of hearing or vision.

This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms and if you have any concerns then you should seek advice from a sexual health clinic practitioner.

You can also read more about the three stages and symptoms of syphilis here →,over%20the%20last%205%20years

How do I get tested for syphilis?

The only way to know for sure if you have contracted syphilis is to get tested. 

Testing is a simple process that can be carried out at most sexual health service clinics or GPs in the UK (but please contact your local clinic for specific informtion on your local services).

The test is a blood test, blood will be drawn, sent to a lab for testing and then you will be informed of the results. Some clinics will be able to provide same day results, others you may have to wait a week or two. Your local health service will be able to advise you on how long your test results will take.

You may be able to find information on your local sexual health clinic by using our Clinic Finder (

How is Syphilis treated?

The recommended treatment for syphilis is penicillin (an antibiotic). Sypillis treatment is given as an injection into your buttocks (arse cheeks). If caught early, only one treatment is needed. We’ll recommend longer syphilis treatment if the infection been present for longer than 2 years or is affecting the nervous system (brain, nerves, eyes). It is important not to have sex until the treatment is completed.

In late stage syphilis infections, treatment at any time can stop further illness and cure the infection itself, though it does not repair any damaged organs.

Treatment is usually given by injection and may involve one or more doses, depending on the stage of the infection. In some cases tablet treatment may be offered.

Once the treatment has finished, further blood tests are carried out to make sure the infection has gone. These tests may be required at intervals for up to a year.

What else should I know about syphilis?

The other important things to note about syphilis are:

If you contract syphilis you will then be at greater risk of contracting other infections such as HIV.

Syphilis can also be passed to a baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

If syphilis is left untreated it can have severe effects on your health, including, in very extreme cases, death.

Syphilis can and will usually be diagnosed and treated early enough that there will be no long term negative health effects. 

It is really important that if you do test positive for syphilis you do not have sex with anyone until your treatment is complete and you are given the all clear. If you do then you risk getting re-infected or infecting someone else.