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  • What is it? Syphilis is a bacterial infection. It is usually sexually transmitted. In 2004 there were 2,250 new cases of syphilis in the UK of these over half were in gay male community with the highest rates of infection seen in older age groups.
  • Symptoms: The signs and symptoms of Syphilis are the same in both men and women. They can, however, be difficult to recognise and may take up to 3 months to show after having sexual contact with an infected person. Syphilis has three stages with the primary and secondary stages being the most infectious.

Primary stage symptoms- Between 10-90 days after you caught the infection you will get sores on whatever part of your body the bacteria entered your body. These sores can appear anywhere on the body but usually this will either be: -

  • Women - On the vulva (lips of the vagina), the clitoris and around the opening of the urethra (the water passage), on the cervix (neck of the womb).
  • Men - On the penis and foreskin
  • Both sexes- Around the anus and mouth

At this stage they are very infectious (yet often painless making it difficult to spot) and may take from 2 to 6 weeks to heal.

Secondary stage symptoms - Anything after 6 to 12weeks up to a few years after the appearance of sores (if left untreated) secondary stage symptoms can begin to occur. This can include; sores in the mouth, rashes covering the whole of the body or in patches, warty growths on genitals, a feeling of tiredness and loss of appetite, swollen glands and patchy hair loss. Again when these symptoms are present syphilis is very infectious and may be sexually transmitted to a partner.

Treatment at any time during these first two stages of syphilis will cure the infection.

Latent stage symptoms - If left untreated, over time Syphilis can lead to heart, joint and nervous system damage (Usually after approx 10 years). This may be irreversible and is potentially fatal.

As a side effect of your body’s fight against Syphilis your immune system starts destroying critical body tissue and ultimately can cause death.

  • Transmission: Syphilis can be passed on during the primary or secondary stages through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex You could also get it by touching a syphilitic sore on an infected person’s body and then touching yourself. It is not usually infectious during the latent stage
  • Treatment: Firstly a diagnosis is made by taking blood and urine samples and a specimen of fluid is taken from any sores you may have. The doctor will examine your genital area and whole body and then the samples are sent to a laboratory for testing. If you are told that you have syphilis you will also be asked about your sexual partner(s), so that, if necessary, they can receive treatment too. You should not have any kind of sex involving contact until the treatment is Treatment for Syphilis is often given as a single injection or course of Penicillin injections or, in some cases, antibiotic tablets or capsules.
  • Post Treatment: Once you have completed your treatment, you will be asked to attend the clinic at regular intervals for blood tests. Your blood test will still show positive in any future tests but you can get a certificate from your clinic explaining about your treatment. Remember, after treatment, using condoms during sex can reduce your risk of getting or passing on sexually transmitted infections. Click here for a list of agencies you can contact should you require further information or help.

If there are any health workers that could help us keep our pages updated please mail us as we are very aware that new research and information is constantly being published on Syphilis. Your help would be much appreciated.

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