What is it?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that you can get in the penis (dick), vagina (front hole), throat or anus (bum) and then spreads to different parts of the body through the bloodstream. If it is not treated syphilis can cause damage to your body, and especially to unborn babies.

How do you get it?

Syphilis can only be passed on from someone that has syphilis. It is passed by having vaginal (front hole), anal (bum) or oral sex. It can also be passed on through vaginal (front-hole), or arse (bum) play, such as fingering, fisting and the use of sex toys. You can also pass on syphilis from one person to another from touching an infected area of skin.

What are the signs?

It is common for people to show no symptoms of syphilis, so you could have syphilis and not know it. If untreated, syphilis progresses through three stages, each of which has different symptoms.

Stage 1 (primary syphilis):

Primary syphilis will appear at the site of infection anywhere from two weeks to three months. Signs may include a small circular red sore on the mouth, vagina (front-hole), penis (dick), arse (bum), balls, which can appear for a few weeks before it disappears. 

Stage 2 (secondary syphilis):

Secondary syphilis will appear around two to ten weeks after Stage 1 (primary syphilis) infection. Signs may include non-itchy rashes which can appear on your hands and feet and other parts of the body. Other signs such as headaches, fever, weight loss, tiredness, mouth and genital ulcers, and joint pain can also occur.

Stage 3 (tertiary syphilis):

Tertiary syphilis will only occur when syphilis is left untreated – this is now very uncommon. Signs may include damage to your body’s organs, and can also lead to death.

Tests for Syphilis

Testing for syphilis is more commonly done through a blood test or a swab of an infected area of the skin.  

Treatment for Syphilis

Syphilis can be treated with one course of penicillin injections. Depending on how far along your syphilis is, you may need more injections. If you have had syphilis it is important to let you doctor or healthcare worker know, as your body remembers this, and it will show in future tests. So, your doctor will use another test to get the correct test result.  

Preventing Syphilis

The best way you can prevent syphilis is to use condoms and lube during sex. Although you can still get syphilis even when using condoms and lube.

Regular testing can prevent the spread of syphilis.  

Syphilis and HIV

There can be significant differences in how syphilis disease progresses in people with HIV. There can be a rapid progression from early syphilis to nervous system involvement in a matter of months, rather than the years or decades it takes in HIV-negative people. Nervous system complications can occur is the early stages of infection in people with HIV—not just the later stages.

Co-infection with HIV and syphilis may also result in the more rapid onset of HIV disease and AIDS. It can decrease the CD4 count (therefore causing damage to the immune system) as well as increase the viral load of HIV-positive people if they aren’t on treatment. This is especially of concern for people with a low CD4 count.

The diagnostic tests for syphilis may fail more frequently (producing false positives and negatives) in people with highly depleted immune systems. However, these failures are still believed to occur only rarely.

Syphilis and Pregnant Women

Syphilis can pass from the mother to the baby before being born, or during the birth itself. Syphilis in the baby can be very serious and can cause a lot of harm to the baby, or even death. All pregnant women are tested for syphilis with a blood test and treated if they have syphilis.

In areas where there is a lot of syphilis, pregnant woman will have several blood tests during pregnancy, to help make sure the baby doesn’t get syphilis. Sometimes the baby needs treatment with penicillin, too, after it is born.

List of STIs

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