STIs – Syphilis
How do you get it?
The most common way of getting syphilis is by having unprotected sex with someone who’s infected.
You can get the infection if you come into contact with an ulcer on their penis, vagina, bottom, or inside their mouth.
It’s also possible for syphilis to be passed on:
- To an unborn baby during pregnancy (congenital syphilis)
- By injecting drugs with a needle that’s been used by an infected person
Wearing a condom during vaginal, anal and oral sex prevents the spread of syphilis.
Also use a condom if you are using a sex toy with someone.
Ulcers on your penis, vagina, or around your bottom – these are usually painless and you may only have one of them
sores in other areas, including in your mouth or on your lips, hands or bottom
White or grey warty growths most commonly on your penis, vagina or around your anus.
A rash on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet that can sometimes spread all over your body – this is not usually itchy.
White patches in your mouth.
Flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, headaches and tiredness
Patchy hair loss on the head, beard and eyebrows.
Heart problems like angina, aortic aneurysm and heart failure.
Brain problems like fits (seizures), memory problems, personality changes and dementia.
Nerve problems like shooting pains, pins and needles, joint pain and gradual damage the joints.
Problems with the skin, bones, testicles, liver and any other organ.
Some of these problems may not appear for many years after being infected with syphilis.
If you have symptoms of syphilis, a doctor or nurse will check your penis, vagina and bottom for syphilis ulcers. They may use a swab to collect a fluid sample from any sores.
They’ll also check the rest of your body for other signs of syphilis like a rash, sores or wart-like growths. They may also take a blood sample.
Syphilis is treated with antibiotics, which you may have as injections, tablets or capsules.
Treatment may be started before your test result is known. How long you need treatment for will depend on the stage of your syphilis.
In some people, treatment can cause flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, headache and aching muscles. This usually lasts for up to 24 hours.
You’ll need to go back to the GP surgery or sexual health clinic 6 and 12 weeks after starting treatment to be retested.