Syphilis is an STI that, if left untreated, can cause serious health effects including issues with the heart, eyes, brain and can cause miscarriage or other complications during pregnancy.
How do you get/give it?
Syphilis is a bacterial STI spread through unprotected oral, anal and vaginal sex with an infected person. It can also be spread through blood-to-blood contact such as sharing needles or drug preparation equipment or by sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes. If you are pregnant and have syphilis, you can pass on the infection to your baby before it is born or during birth.
How can you tell if you have it?
In many cases, people infected with syphilis have no symptoms. For those who do have symptoms, they are experienced in two stages:
First stage - symptoms appear 1 to 12 weeks after infection and include a painless sore most likely around the mouth or genitals. The sore will go away but the infection does not.
Second stage - symptoms appear once the sore begins healing. They include a rash that can be anywhere on the body and flu-like symptoms. These symptoms will go away but the infection does not.
How do you get tested?
Syphilis testing is usually done by a blood test. Blood testing for syphilis is available through your health care provider or the Sexual Health Clinic at any of the Northwestern Health Unit offices. If you are pregnant you can also ask about testing during your prenatal checkups.
How is it treated?
Syphilis will not go away on its own. You should be treated as soon as possible. Ask your partner to get tested and treated for syphilis. Without treatment, you can infect each other again and again.
To get rid of syphilis you will need to get antibiotic injections from a nurse or doctor. This means that the antibiotic called penicillin (or another antibiotic if allergic) will be given using a needle. It is very important to finish your treatment because syphilis can cause very serious health problems.
How do I not get syphilis?
The only way to protect yourself 100% is to not have sex and never share needles or drug preparation equipment with others.
If you choose to have sex, you should use a condom every time, even if you are using birth control, to lower your chance of getting syphilis and other STIs. Free condoms are available at the health unit.