Syphilis is a bacterial infection which if left untreated can cause serious health problems.

It can be passed on during unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. It is essential to get treatment as it is a curable infection.


The symptoms of syphilis are not always obvious and may eventually disappear, but you'll usually remain infected unless you get treated. Some people with syphilis have no symptoms.

Syphilis generally has three stages:

Primary syphilis

  • small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, but can occur in other places such as the mouth  

Secondary syphilis

  • a blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • small skin growths (similar to genital warts) that may develop on the vulva in women or around the bottom (anus) in both men and women
  • white patches in the mouth
  • tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a high temperature (fever) and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits
  • Eye problems

Late syphilis

  • Nervous system problems (including Dementia, Strokes, Deafness)
  • Heart disease


Syphilis is usually treated with either:

  • an injection of antibiotics– most people will only need 1 dose, although 3 injections given at weekly intervals may be recommended if you have had syphilis for a long time
  • a course of antibiotics tablets if you cannot have the injection – this will usually last 2 or 4 weeks, depending on how long you have had syphilis  

You should avoid any kind of sexual activity or close sexual contact with another person until at least 2 weeks after your treatment finishes.


If left untreated for years, syphilis can spread to the brain or other parts of the body and cause serious long-term problems.

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