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October 26, 2023

STI Spotlight: Syphilis – What You Need to Know

As part of our series spotlighting STI’s, this month we’re looking at syphilis.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are an infection that can be passed on between sexual partners during unprotected sexual contact. There are more than 25 STIs which can be spread by vaginal, anal or oral sex.

They are unfortunately common amongst all age groups, which is why it’s important to understand what they are, the symptoms you may experience and how they are treated.

It’s important to start breaking the stigma surrounding STIs by showing that they aren’t something to be embarrassed about and, in most cases, can be very simple and quick to get treated.

So, let’s have a look at what syphilis is and what you need to know about it.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial STI caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum. Syphilis is a highly contagious disease that can affect individuals of any age, gender, or sexual orientation. Syphilis is spread through close contact with an infected sore. This happens during vaginal, anal or oral sex, or by sharing sex toys with someone who’s infected. It may also be possible to spread syphilis through sharing needles if you inject yourself with drugs. Pregnant women with syphilis can pass the infection to their unborn baby.

The infection can progress through several stages if left untreated and can have severe consequences on one’s health. Understanding the risks associated with syphilis is vital for preventing its transmission.

What Are the Potential Symptoms?

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), progresses through stages with varying symptoms:

  • Small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus. They can also occur in the mouth.
  • A blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of your hands and soles of your feet
  • Small skin growths that may develop on the vulva in women or around the bottom in both men and women.
  • White patches in the mouth
  • Tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a fever and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits

Early detection and treatment with antibiotics, particularly penicillin, are essential to prevent complications. Regular STI testing is crucial for early diagnosis. If you suspect syphilis, seek medical evaluation promptly. If untreated, syphilis can spread to other areas including the brain and cause serious complications.

What Tests Can You Take?

Essex Sexual Health Service offers syphilis testing as part of its comprehensive STI screening services. Order your STI Home test kit via our online Personal Health Record portal. Early diagnosis is key to effectively treating syphilis and preventing complications. Testing typically involves a blood test to detect antibodies against the bacterium. It’s worth noting that you should avoid having sex with anyone else until you get your test results. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this by yourself, or can’t access the online service, you can come into one of our clinics where our team will  be able to advise and support you.

What Is the Treatment?

Not to worry, syphilis is treatable with either a course of antibiotics, particularly penicillin, or an injection of antibiotics into your buttocks. Most people will only need one injection. Early-stage syphilis is easier to treat and has a higher chance of successful recovery. Essex Sexual Health Service advises seeking medical attention promptly if you suspect you have syphilis or have tested positive. Treatment can prevent the progression of the disease and its associated complications.

What Can You Do to Prevent Syphilis?

Preventing syphilis is essential for maintaining sexual health. Essex Sexual Health Service provides valuable guidance on preventive measures:

  • Safe Sex: Consistently using condoms during sexual activity can significantly reduce the risk of syphilis transmission. If you would like some free condoms, we can help. Visit our eC-Card scheme to find out more and how you can access free condoms near you.
  • Regular Testing: Regular STI testing, including syphilis, is recommended for individuals who are sexually active, especially those with multiple sexual partners. Order your STI Home test kit here.
  • Partner Communication: Open and honest communication with sexual partners about STIs and testing is crucial for preventing syphilis and other infections.
  • Prenatal Screening: Pregnant individuals should undergo syphilis screening to prevent mother-to-child transmission, which can lead to severe health issues in newborns.

What Support Is Available?

We get it; dealing with STIs can be stressful. But remember, you’re not alone in this journey. The Essex Sexual Health Service is here for you! We offer support, advice, and treatment – all without judgment.

Visit our Online Portal or Contact us on 0300 003 1212 and we’ll help arrange the tests and treatment you need. Alternatively, for more ways to get in touch and find your nearest clinic visit:











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