Syphilis is a complicated disease (sometimes called the pox) caused by a bacterium and can show up in many different ways. It
can also be present with no symptoms at all. In
either case it can still be infectious. Today it is a relatively rare infection in the
U.K. but common in other parts of the world and becoming more common in the U.S.A.
How is it passed on?
It can be spread by intimate close body contact and sexual intercourse, including oral
How does it affect the body?
There might be no signs of the infection but one or more painless sores, generally
round in shape commonly emerge around the point of genital contact (ie on the penis or
vagina/vulva) two to three weeks later. They can last for up to 6 weeks. A painless,
non-irritating rash may follow some weeks later, spreading all over the body including the
palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Other symptoms of infection may also be present.
After this stage the person
infected may experience no further symptoms for many years. In the long run it can have
very serious effects on the brain and nervous system. The heart, bones, liver and eyes and
skin can be involved too. A mother, if infected, can pass it on to her unborn baby.
Can it be treated?
Yes - the antibiotic penicillin can provide a very effective cure.
Blood tests for syphilis are offered in most GUM
clinics on a relatively routine basis. The results take up to about a week to come
back. Tests often need to be repeated at future visits because of possible delays in the
test showing positive after infection.
Can it be prevented?
Safer sex practices, including the proper and consistent use of condoms will
drastically reduce the risk of infection.