Syphilis is caused by a type of bacteria that can affect anyone and is spread by contact with sores on the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum, or on the lips or in the mouth. Syphilis is divided into categories (syphilis of less than two years duration; syphilis of greater than two years or unknown duration; and congenital syphilis), and there are different signs and symptoms associated with each category.


Syphilis doesn’t immediately show any symptoms. You may develop a painless ulcer in the early stages that can spread to a rash across your entire body or experience flu like symptoms and swollen glands. If you notice these signs after having unprotected sex you should get and tested. A simple swab or blood test is all that is required to determine if you have syphilis.


Syphilis is effectively treated with penicillin. Sex should be avoided after treatment until any rashes or sores have gone.

Risks if not treated

If left untreated it can have serious long-term effects including heart failure, shooting pains, dementia and widespread ulcers. In rare and prolonged cases, syphilis can also cause blindness, brain damage and heart disease.

Your responsibilities

If you have syphilis it is your responsibility to let your sexual partners know so that they can be tested and treated if needed. Your medical professional will provide you with specific advice. For advice on how to make it easier to tell them visit the let them know website.


Condoms provide protection but only if they cover the infected area, ulcer, or rash. As treatment is relatively easy, you may want to take a short break from sex until everything has cleared up. Check with your doctor as to how long this may be for you.


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