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Syphilis symptoms

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What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis symptoms can be difficult to notice, as they come and go over time. So, the only sure way to know if you have contracted syphilis is get tested. Syphilis affects both me and women, most of the time, people don’t even realise they have syphilis, which increases the likelihood of it being easily spread.

The initial symptoms of syphilis can be so mild, that often you won’t even notice them or pass them off as a rash or acne breakout.

There are four different stages of syphilis and symptoms can vary:

Primary stage

First, a chancre (a syphilis sore) will appear where the infection entered your body. These chancres can be firm, round, and painless, or sometimes open and wet. In women these sores will appear on your vulva, vagina and anus, and in men these symptoms will be present on your penis and anus. These sores are incredibly contagious and easily pass the infection to other people during sex. It is easy and common to mistake a chancre as an ingrown hair or spot, and last between 3 to 6 weeks – without treatment. If you do not get tested or seek treatment, the infection will progress to the secondary stage.

Secondary stage

During this stage, symptoms will include rashes on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, or other parts of your body. Sometimes the rash is hard to see and as it usually isn’t itchy, it can easily go unnoticed. Also, you may experience mild flu-like symptoms, like a slight fever, feeling tired, sore throat, swollen glands, headache, and muscle aches. These symptoms can last between 2 to 6 weeks and will go away by themselves with or without treatment.

Latent stage

Often referred to as the hidden stage, there are no visible signs or symptoms of syphilis and can last for years.

Late stage

People who have had syphilis for a long time face serious health problems. Late stages of syphilis can cause tumors, blindness, and paralysis. It can damage your nervous system, brain and other organs, and may even kill you.

Syphilis is easily curable with antibiotics in the early stages. If you get treatment late, it will still cure the infection and stop future damage to your body. But the damage that late stage syphilis has already caused can’t be changed or healed. The complications from late stage syphilis can happen 10-20 years after you first get infected.

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Is syphilis curable?

Yes, if caught early syphilis can be treated with a course of antibiotics. Find out more about treating syphilis on our syphilis treatment page.

Is syphilis contagious by touch?

Syphilis is spread through close contact with an infected sore, this usually happens through sexual intercourse. Syphilis cannot be spread by using the same clothing, cutlery or bathroom with someone who has the infection.

How can I stop myself getting syphilis?

If you’re sexually active you can lower your risk of getting the infection by practising safe sex. Using male or female condoms or using a dental dam during oral sex and not sharing sex toys can help you to lower your risk.

Image for illustrative purposes only. Posed by models.