Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. The infection progresses in stages.
How is syphilis spread?
Syphilis is passed to a partner during sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal).
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms will vary depending on the stage of the infection:
Primary Syphilis (1st Stage)
- Symptoms usually develop 3 days to 3 months after contact.
- A painless open sore develops around the genitals, rectum and/or mouth.
- The sore will heal on its own, but the infection remains.
Secondary Syphilis (2nd Stage)
- Symptoms usually develop 2 to 24 weeks after exposure.
- A rash can develop anywhere on the body, including on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
- Flu-like symptoms develop, including headache, slight fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and sore throat.
Latent Syphilis (3rd Stage)
- Latent syphilis occurs after secondary syphilis.
- Typically, there are no symptoms.
How can I be tested for syphilis?
- A blood test is done.
How is syphilis treated?
- A doctor will give you antibiotics.
- Avoid all sex (oral, anal, and/or vaginal) for 7 days after taking the medication.
- Do not have sex with your current partner until they are tested and treated.
What about partners?
- Individuals who test positive for syphilis are asked to tell all sexual partners so they can be tested and/or treated. A public health nurse is able to help contact sexual partners as needed.
Is follow up needed?
- Yes. After treatment, blood tests are needed to show that the infection has been treated properly.
Things to think about:
- Longstanding, untreated syphilis can damage the heart, the nervous system and other major organs.
- Individuals infected with syphilis are at greater risk of getting and spreading other STIs, including HIV.
- Taking medication will treat syphilis but any damage that has been done to the body before treatment cannot be reversed.
How can I reduce my chances of getting and spreading syphilis?
- Avoid sex.
- Use condoms/dental dams every time you have sex, even if you are using another form of birth control.
- Do not share sex toys.
- After any type of unprotected sex
- After your last partner and before a new partner
To help protect against STIs, get vaccinated for hepatitis A, B, and HPV.
For more information, please contact The Clinic at 519-663-5317.
Last modified on: June 17, 2022