What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.

Although spread through sexual contact, it is frequently passed to an unborn child by its infected mother, where it can cause congenital syphilis resulting in high rates of still birth and increased infant mortality rates.

Primary syphilis is when sores appear at the point where the bacteria entered the body. These sores can appear anywhere such as: around the opening of the urethra, penis, foreskin and anus in men; the vulva, clitoris, cervix, urethra and anus in women.

Secondary syphilis occurs when untreated sores have appeared and healed. It is still infectious and maintains its ability to be passed on.

Tertiary syphilis is a progression from untreated secondary syphilis. Untreated syphilis can, after many years, cause serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, internal organs and nervous system, which can ultimately lead to death.

How common is Syphilis?

Over 12 million new cases of syphilis are reported each year, including 14,000 reported cases in the U.S, 8,000 cases in Germany and 3,000 reported cases in the U.K. There are an estimated 2.5 million cases in the Western Pacific Region, with another 930,000 cases in Brazil.

How is Syphilis passed on?

Syphilis is passed on from one person to another through sex (vaginal, anal and oral) and also by direct skin contact with syphilis sores or rashes. Symptoms do not have to be visible for it to be passed on. It can still be transmitted before sores appear or after they have disappeared. Pregnant women can also pass syphilis onto their unborn baby.

What are the complications of Syphilis?

If syphilis is not treated effectively, it can spread to other parts of the body. This can result in long term complications, such as damage to the heart, brain, eyes and other organs. Ultimately, this damage can even lead to death.

Symptoms of syphilis

Symptoms of syphilis in both men and women include:

Primary syphilis:

  • Sores or ulcers appearing where the infection was transmitted
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes

Secondary syphilis:

  • A non-itchy rash appearing anywhere on the body, but commonly on the palms and soles of the feet.
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Hair loss
  • Joint pain

Tertiary syphilis:

  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Loss of co-ordination
  • Numbness
  • Paralysis
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Heart disease
  • Skin rashes
  • Death

What happens if syphilis is left untreated?

If left untreated, syphilis can cause damage to the brain, heart, eyes, other organs and the nervous system. However, if detected early, syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.

Can I be cured of syphilis?

Early diagnosis can result in effective treatment. You can still catch syphilis again after you have been treated for it. Tertiary syphilis requires longer treatment periods, which although can stop the infection, cannot repair any damage already caused.

How often do you need to test for syphilis?

If you suspect you may have syphilis, get tested as soon as possible to prevent further complications. All sexually active individuals are at risk of syphilis through unprotected sex, regular sexual health screening can provide peace of mind. A comprehensive STI screen is recommended once a year or with every change of partner.

Who is at risk of syphilis?

Everyone who is sexually active is at risk of syphilis if they have had unprotected sex. Men who have sex with men are a high risk group for syphilis. The more sexual partners you have, the greater your risk also. Syphilis is also more common in people who have HIV.

Where can I get a test for syphilis?

At Yourhealthfirst Clinic tests for 10 STIs at the same time, including syphilis.

How reliable is the syphilis test?

Syphilis is most accurately detected using a swab from a blister or a sore. Not all Syphilis infections can be detected in a urine sample.

Syphilis is included as one of the ten STIs that YHF offers . Our test is a cutting-edge testing procedure that uses molecular diagnostics that far exceed other STI tests currently available. The test screens for multiple STI pathogens to identify specific viral, protozoan or bacterial pathogens.

How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics if detected early. If syphilis develops into the third stage, permanent damage may occur. You must complete the full course of treatment and abstain from sex until the infection has cleared. If your results are positive, contact your GP for treatment.