What is it?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection you can get in your throat, cock, arse, vagina or front-hole.
How do you get it?
You can only get syphilis from someone who has syphilis — through oral sex, anal sex, vaginal or front-hole sex, and by fingering, fisting or using toys. Syphilis can also spread from one person to another by touching a part of the body on someone else where the infection is.
What are the symptoms?
Some people don’t have symptoms when they get syphilis, which means you can have syphilis and not know about it. If you do get symptoms, they can appear around 10 days after exposure but may take up to three months to appear.
The symptoms of syphilis are separated by the length of time you have the infection:
- Primary syphilis occurs from the start of infection to around two to three months. Common symptoms may include a small round red sore (called a chancre) on the mouth, cock, arse, balls, vagina or front-hole, which may only appear for a couple of weeks before disappearing
- Secondary syphilis occurs roughly two to six months after infection. Common symptoms may include a non-itchy rash which can appear on your hands, the soles of your feet and other parts of your body. Other symptoms may include a fever, rash, headaches, weight loss, joint aches and tiredness.
- Tertiary syphilis occurs if the infection is left untreated. Common symptoms may include damage to internal organs such as the brain, nervous system, eyes, heart and liver. In some cases, tertiary syphilis can lead to premature death.
Diagnosis and treatment
A doctor diagnoses syphilis by taking a blood sample and a swab of any sore or lesion for laboratory testing.
Treatment is straightforward with penicillin injections. Avoid all sexual contact for seven days after you complete treatment to stop syphilis from spreading.
Once you have had syphilis, your body remembers this through the antibodies that remain in your body. As testing for syphilis involves detecting those antibodies, it’s best to tell your doctor if you have previously had syphilis when you test again. This will help determine whether your test results show a new syphilis infection or evidence of a previous one.
How do you prevent it?
Apart from not having any sex, the most effective way to prevent syphilis is to use condoms, dams and gloves during sex. However, syphilis can still spread even when these barriers are used.
Going for regular sexual health tests will identify syphilis before it becomes a problem and helps prevent it from spreading.