Syphilis is a bacterial infection. It’s usually passed on by having sex with someone who is infected.

About Syphilis

It’s important to get tested and treated as soon as possible if you think you might have syphilis as it can cause serious problems if it’s left untreated.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms for syphilis are not always obvious and some people have no symptoms at all.

If you do have symptoms they can include:

  • Small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus. They can also occur in the mouth
  • A blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of your hands and soles of your feet
  • Small skin growths that may develop on the vulva in women or around the bottom in both men and women
  • White patches in the mouth
  • Tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a fever and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits

If untreated, syphilis can spread to other areas including the brain and cause serious complications

How is it Transmitted?

Syphilis is spread through close contact with an infected sore. This happens during vaginal, anal or oral sex, or by sharing sex toys with someone who’s infected.

It may also be possible to spread syphilis through sharing needles if you inject yourself with drugs.

Pregnant women with syphilis can pass the infection to their unborn baby.

How to Get Tested

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You can reduce your risk of catching syphilis by practicing safer sex:

  • Use a male or female condom during vaginal, oral and anal sex
  • Use a dental dam (a square of plastic) during oral sex
  • Avoid sharing sex toys
  • If you inject yourself with drugs, do not share needles


Syphilis is treated with:

  • An injection of antibiotics into your buttocks – most people will only need one
  • A course of antibiotics tablets if you cannot have the injection


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Contacting a sexual health service for the first time can be a little daunting, so here are some easy answers to many of the questions you may have.

Is syphilis serious?

If left untreated syphilis can spread to parts of the body such as the brain or nerves and cause potentially life-threatening problems. This is known as ‘tertiary syphilis’

How is syphilis diagnosed?

You can order a Test at Home kit. You should avoid having sex with anyone else until you get your test results.

What to do if you think you have syphilis

If you’re worried you have syphilis you should get tested right away. The medicines used to treat syphilis are only available on prescription.