Syphilis has not been very common in the UK, but is increasing in prevalence - especially among men who have sex with men. Left untreated syphilis can cause serious illness.*

How is Syphilis passed on?

Syphilis can be passed on through having intimate sexual contact, usually during oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone who has a Syphilitic sore or through sharing sex toys.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis has 3 stages:

Primary – a painless ulcer on genitals, anus or inside oral cavity. The ulcer develops between 9-90 days after infection. The ulcer will resolve, but if syphilis remains untreated, it will progress to secondary syphilis.

Secondary – a generalised rash, flu-like symptoms, mouth ulcers, swollen glands, hair loss. These symptoms may disappear, but the individual still carries the infection and remains infectious for approximately two years. Left untreated, a third of cases progress to tertiary syphilis.

Tertiary – tertiary syphilis affects vital organs including the brain, eyes, heart, bones and joints and causes serious illness.

How is syphilis diagnosed?

Syphilis is diagnosed from a blood sample. The best time to test is at least four weeks after having unprotected sexual intercourse. This test is available at all Nuffield Health Wellbeing gyms.

Why should syphilis be treated?

Left untreated, syphilis can become a debilitating (blindness, paralysis, stroke, dementia, heart disease) and life threatening illness. It crosses the placenta and can lead to early pregnancy losses or other pregnancy complications as well as causing disease in the baby when it is born. Patients with syphilis are 3-5 times more likely to catch HIV (AIDS).

How is syphilis treated?

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics, usually by injection. Syphilis is best treated through a specialist clinic such as your local Sexual Health (Genitourinary GUM) clinic. It is important to complete the course of antibiotics and avoid sexual activity with your partner until both of you have been successfully treated. Repeat testing is necessary in some cases to ensure that the treatment was successful.

Do I have to tell my partner?

It is important to notify your sexual partners to protect them against the possible complications of an untreated Syphilis Infection. A trained Sexual Health Adviser at your local GUM clinic can help you identify and contact your sexual partners.

*(British Association for Sexual Health and HIV – Guidelines on Syphilis Management 2008)