February 26, 2023
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that's usually caught by having sex with someone who's infected. It's important to get tested and treated as soon as possible if you think you might have syphilis, as it can cause serious problems if left untreated.
It can usually be cured with a short course of antibiotics.
You can catch syphilis more than once, even if you have been treated before.
The symptoms of syphilis are not always obvious. Some people will experience symptoms whereas, others may not. If it's left untreated for years, syphilis can spread to the brain or other parts of the body and cause serious long-term problems.
Symptoms can include:
small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, but can occur in other places such as the mouth a blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet small skin growths (similar to genital warts) that may develop on the vulva or around the bottom (anus). white patches in the mouth tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a high temperature (fever) and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits Testing You should get tested as soon as possible if you're worried you could have syphilis. This is as:
syphilis will not go away on its own getting tested is the only way to find out if you have it the medicines used to treat syphilis are only available on prescription – you cannot buy them yourself treatment can help reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others and serious problems developing later on The best place to get tested is a sexual health clinic. The test for syphilis usually involves a blood test and removing a sample of fluid from any sores using a swab. You'll be asked about your sexual history, and whether you're experiencing any symptoms. To diagnose syphilis, you'll usually have a:
physical examination – a doctor or nurse will ask to examine your genitals (and inside the vagina for people with vulvas) or other parts of your body to look for growths or rashes that may be caused by syphilis blood test – this can show whether you have syphilis or have had it in the past; repeating the test a few weeks later may be recommended if it's negative, in case it was too early to give an accurate result swab test – a swab (similar to a cotton bud) is used to take a small sample of fluid from any sores, so it can be checked for syphilis You should also be tested for other STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, as it's possible to have more than one STI at a time. Some results may be available the same day, while others may take a week or two to come back.
You should avoid having sex or close sexual contact with anyone else until you get your test results.
Syphilis is usually treated with either:
an injection of antibiotics into your buttocks – most people will only need 1 dose, although 3 injections given at weekly intervals may be recommended if you have had syphilis for a long time a course of antibiotics tablets if you cannot have the injection – this will usually last 2 or 4 weeks, depending on how long you have had syphilis You should avoid any kind of sexual activity or close sexual contact with another person until at least 2 weeks after your treatment finishes.
Syphilis cannot always be prevented, but if you're sexually active you can reduce your risk by practising safer sex:
use a male condom or female condom during vaginal, oral and anal sex use a dental dam (a square of plastic) during oral sex avoid sharing sex toys – if you do share them, wash them and cover them with a condom before each use These measures can also reduce your risk of catching other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
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