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What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema Pallidum Subspecies Pallidum. It affects both men and women, it can be contracted through vaginal, oral and anal sex. If diagnosed early, it can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics, such as a single dose of penicillin.

If syphilis is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can eventually cause damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. In extreme cases it can cause difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, mental illness, and even death. Therefore, it is incredibly important that you protect yourself and your partners at all time by having regular sexual health check-ups, it is advised that you are tested once a year or whenever you change sexual partners, along with practising safe sex.

How can you catch syphilis?

There are many different ways that you can contract the sexually transmitted infection, syphilis, these include:

  • By direct contact with a syphilitic sore, known as a chancre
  • Chancres can occur on or around the external genitals, in the vagina, around the anus, or in the rectum, or in or around the mouth
  • You can get syphilis by having sex with someone with the infection
  • Syphilis is spread by sharing needles with someone who is infected
  • Pregnant women with syphilis can transmit the infection to their unborn child, known as congenital syphilis

What is congenital syphilis?

Congenital syphilis occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, low birth weight or even, death shortly after birth.

What are the stages of syphilis?

The disease has four stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary:

  • Primary stage signs include infectious sores or ulcers, these appear wherever you had sex. If you had oral sex, it might be in your mouth or on your genitals. It does not hurt, so you might not even notice you have a sore unless you look for it.
  • During the secondary stage of syphilis, you might have rash on your hands, feet or other parts of your body. These rashes are often red or brown and usually aren’t itchy, other symptoms may include sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, hair loss, and feeling tired.
  • Following the secondary stage, the infection will enter its latent stage, here you will present no symptoms, leading to a false sense of security.
  • As the infection enters the tertiary stage, serious issues such as difficulty moving your arms and legs, paralysis, numbness, blindness, and heart disease will occur.

How can you test for syphilis?

Syphilis is tested through a blood sample, which can be done at your local sexual health clinic GP, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or at home. Home tests can be accessed through LloydsPharmacy or their Online Doctor service. Your results will be sent to you and then you can decide where the best place for you to receive treatment is, whether at your doctors or a clinic.

If you have had syphilis for less than a year, one dose of penicillin will be administered, and this antibiotic will treat the infection. More doses are needed to treat someone who has had syphilis for longer than a year, your GP will advise you on the correct action. There are no over-the-counter medications available that will cure syphilis, only antibiotics can treat this STI.

How can I lower my risk for syphilis?

You can contract syphilis by having sexual intercourse with an infected person, as well as through contact with a syphilitic sore. If you are sexually active, you can lower your chances of contracting syphilis if you use condoms. However you also must be wary of sores, known as chancres, on the external genitals, anus or mouth. If your partner becomes infected with syphilis, you need to be tested immediately. You need to be tested if you notice any symptoms, such as a painless red sore or rash.

Is syphilis curable?

Yes, syphilis is easily treated in its early stages. The most important thing that you can do is to get tested on a regular basis.

Can I test myself at-home for syphilis?

Yes, through LloydsPharmacy you can access LetsGetChecked at-home sexual health tests that provide you with testing for syphilis.