Spotlight on STIs: Understanding Syphilis

At Essex Sexual Health Service, we continue our series on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with a focus on syphilis this month.

STIs are infections transmitted through unprotected sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. There are over 25 different STIs, and they affect people of all ages. Understanding STIs, their symptoms, and treatments is crucial for maintaining sexual health.

It’s time to break the stigma around STIs. They are not something to be embarrassed about and, in most cases, can be easily treated. Let’s delve into syphilis and what you need to know about it.

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial STI caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It’s highly contagious and can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. Syphilis spreads through direct contact with an infected sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex, or by sharing sex toys. It can also be transmitted through sharing needles or from an infected mother to her unborn baby.

If left untreated, syphilis can progress through several stages and cause severe health issues. Awareness of its risks is key to preventing transmission.

What Are the Symptoms?

Syphilis progresses through stages with different symptoms, including:

  • Small, painless sores or ulcers on the genitals, anus, or mouth.
  • A blotchy red rash, often on the palms and soles.
  • Small growths on the vulva in women or around the anus in both men and women.
  • White patches in the mouth.
  • General symptoms like tiredness, headaches, joint pains, fever, and swollen glands.

Early detection and antibiotic treatment, particularly with penicillin, are vital to prevent complications. Regular STI testing is crucial for early diagnosis. If you suspect you have syphilis, seek medical evaluation promptly. Untreated syphilis can spread to other areas, including the brain, and cause serious complications.

How Can You Get Tested?

Essex Sexual Health Service offers syphilis testing as part of our comprehensive STI screening. You can order an STI Home Test Kit through our online Personal Health Record portal. Early diagnosis is essential for effective treatment and preventing complications. Testing typically involves a blood test to detect antibodies against the bacterium. Until you receive your test results, avoid having sex to prevent further transmission. If you need assistance or prefer in-person support, visit one of our clinics where our team can help.

What Is the Treatment?

Syphilis is treatable with antibiotics, usually penicillin. Most people require just one injection. Early-stage syphilis is easier to treat and has a higher chance of successful recovery. If you suspect you have syphilis or have tested positive, seek medical attention promptly. Timely treatment can prevent the disease from progressing and causing complications.

How Can You Prevent Syphilis?

Preventing syphilis is key to maintaining sexual health. Here are some tips from Essex Sexual Health Service:

  • Safe Sex: Use condoms consistently during sexual activity to significantly reduce the risk of syphilis transmission. For free condoms, visit our eC-Card
  • Regular Testing: Regular STI testing is recommended for sexually active individuals, especially those with multiple partners. Order your STI Home Test Kit here.
  • Partner Communication: Open and honest communication with sexual partners about STIs and testing is crucial for prevention.
  • Prenatal Screening: Pregnant individuals should undergo syphilis screening to prevent mother-to-child transmission, which can lead to severe health issues in newborns.

Support and Resources

Dealing with STIs can be stressful, but you’re not alone. Essex Sexual Health Service offers support, advice, and treatment without judgment. Visit our Online Portal or contact us at 0300 003 1212 to arrange tests and treatment. For more information on how to get in touch and find your nearest clinic, visit Essex Sexual Health Service.