What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by an infection with bacteria known as Treponema pallidum. Like other STDs, syphilis can be spread by any type of sexual contact. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to the fetus during pregnancy or to the baby at the time of birth.

Syphilis has been described for centuries. It can cause long-term damage to different organs if not properly treated.

You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found on the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum, or on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby.


Identifying the symptoms

Syphilis has been called ‘the great imitator’ because it has so many possible symptoms, many of which look like symptoms from other diseases. The painless syphilis sore that you would get after you are first infected can be confused for an ingrown hair, zipper cut, or other seemingly harmless bump. The non-itchy body rash that develops during the second stage of syphilis can show up on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, all over your body, or in just a few places. Syphilis can also affect the eye and can lead to permanent blindness. This is called ocular syphilis. You could also get syphilis and have very mild symptoms or none at all.

The average time between acquisition of syphilis and the start of the first symptom is 21 days, but can range from 10 to 90 days.


What Should I do if I test positive?

If tested positive for Syphilis there are initial steps that need to be taken.  There are no home remedies or over-the-counter drugs that will cure syphilis, but syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages. A single injection of a lAong acting penicillin will cure a person who has primary, secondary or early dormant syphilis. Three doses of long acting penicillin at weekly intervals is recommended for individuals with late dormant syphilis or dormant syphilis of unknown duration. Treatment will kill the syphilis bacterium and prevent further damage, but it will not repair damage already done.

If left untreated it can have serious long-term effects including heart failure, shooting pains, dementia and widespread ulcers. Syphilis can also cause blindness, brain damage and heart disease.


What should I do if I test Negative?

Following a negative test result people can still be infected at a later date.  Focus on prevention methods such as the correct and consistent use of latex condoms.  This can reduce the risk of syphilis but only when the infected area or site of potential exposure is protected.  However, a syphilis sore outside of the area covered by a latex condom can still allow transmission, so caution should be exercised even when using a condom.

The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.

Partner-based interventions include partner notification – a critical component in preventing the spread of syphilis. 

It is important to get tested regularly for Syphilis and if positive, get treated immediately. 


For more information

For more information about Syphilis visit the CDC website:

To speak with a trained STD counsellor, contact the CDC National Hotline at:

Phone: 1 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) (24 hours)