What Is It?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection, which affects mucus membranes such as the head of the penis, inside of the vagina, the inside of the anus or occasionally inside the mouth and throat.
There are 3 stages of syphilis called the primary infection (first), secondary infection (second) and tertiary infection (third) syphilis. Generally symptoms for the first and second stage of infection would be the same regardless of gender.
9 to 90 days – First Stage of Infection
Usually about 3 weeks after transmission a sore (called a chancre) may appear on the vagina, cervix, penis, genital area, throat or anus.
The skin breaks open to reveal a red sore, (similar to a cold sore) which gets covered by a yellow or grey scab. The sores are painless and do not bleed easily. Although the individual sores will heal, the infection will continue to develop to the secondary stage.
6 weeks to 6 months – Second Stage of Infection
Once the sore has disappeared a red spotty rash may appear on the skin. This rash usually appears on the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet. It can also develop elsewhere on the body such as the armpit.
The rash may or may not be accompanied by headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, fever and hair loss. Though the rash will heal, and the infection will continue to develop to the tertiary stage, the syphilis will become latent (not infectious to others).
Months or years later – Third Stage of Infection
Today tertiary syphilis is extremely rare; however new cases of syphilis have been increasing in recent years.
Tertiary syphilis can take different forms.
- One form is cardiovascular (in the heart) and may result in death from heart failure
- One form is known as paresis and affects the nervous system which may lead to paralysis (not being able to move) blindness (not being able to see) and occasionally death
As Syphilis can be successfully treated once diagnosed death is very rare and often only occurs when the individual has not received a diagnosis.
Syphilis is mainly transmitted by direct skin to skin contact with the sores (first stage) or rash (second stage) on the skin. Consequently, syphilis can be transmitted through almost all forms of sexual activity if sores or rash are present: penetration (fucking), tribadism (rubbing vulvas) and licking or sucking the penis, vagina, or anus.
Syphilis can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or child birth.
Syphilitic sores are sometimes hidden inside the mouth so in theory it can also be transmitted through deep kissing.
Syphilis can be contracted more than once.
Syphilitic sores are sometimes hidden inside the vagina or anus. Using condoms or female condoms for sex will protect you from infection.
Using gloves and glyde dams will ensure risks are decreased.
Something else you can do to help reduce the risk of contracting syphilis is look at the person’s genitals. If you see sores or a rash that the person cannot identify for you then you can wait until they have been screened before you do anything sexual with them or use a barrier as described above.
If you have been diagnosed with syphilis you are advised to avoid physical contact with people until the sores and/or rash has healed. You are advised to avoid all sexual contact until you have received a clear test result from your doctor.
It is very important to follow up treatment with regular blood tests to ensure that the infection has completely cleared and will not become latent.
Remember – Regular screening at your local STI clinic is recommended to maintain your sexual health.
Syphilis is a treatable infection if it is diagnosed in stage 1 or 2. Early detection of syphilis is essential as it becomes harder to treat when it reaches stage 3.
Syphilis is easily treated with penicillin injections, alternative antibiotics are available for people who are allergic to penicillin.