Syphilis is a bacterial infection. It is less common than some STIs but it is on the rise in the UK.

Syphilis can be passed on through unprotected vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex (kissing, licking or sucking someone’s genitals). If people share sex toys and do not wash them or cover them with a condom every time then they can pass syphilis on as well.

The symptoms of syphilis can be very mild, and you may not know you have it. So it’s possible to pass it on without realising it.

Syphilis can develop in three stages:

The first stage is called primary syphilis

Primary symptoms start with a painless sore, called a chancre (pronounced ‘shanker’) usually on or near the vagina or penis, but sometimes in the mouth or anus.

The second stage is called secondary syphilis

Secondary symptoms may include a painless rash on the body: it can spread all over the body, or appear in patches, but it often appears on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands. Symptoms may also include:

  • Wart type growths on the vulva in women and around the anus in both men and women.
  • A flu-like illness, including tiredness and swollen glands which can last for weeks or months.
  • White patches on the tongue or roof of the mouth.

The third or latent stage: called tertiary syphilis.

Tertiary syphilis is very rare in the UK and you are not likely to experience it.

How it’s treated

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. If it is left untreated, it can cause heart problems and dementia. If contracted in pregnancy it can cause stillbirth or congenital infection.

This information is sourced Brook.

< Back to About STIs