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Seven things you need to know about syphilis


Syphilis doesn't get as much media attention as the likes of chlamydia and HIV, but cases of this sexually transmitted infection are on the increase. Make sure you know the symptoms, how it's spread and the testing process.


Numbers are at their highest since 1949

Cases of syphilis are on the increase across the country and recent figures from Public Health England have shown that rates are at their highest since 1949. In the last 10 years it's increased by 148%, so it really is making a comeback!


People of all ages can get it

Syphilis is sometimes seen as an old school STI (maybe because Henry VIII was rumoured to have it) but it's making an appearance among younger people too. STIs affect people of all ages, ethnicities, sexualities and genders, and syphilis is no different.


It can be spread by sharing sex toys and skin-to-skin contact

Like many other STIs you don't actually need to have vaginal/anal sex to spread it. Syphilis can be passed on through sharing sex toys and from skin-to-skin contact with the sore (which aren't always easy to spot!).

Avoid sex with sores, use condoms on sex toys or wash thoroughly between partners and of course, use condoms on penises, to protect yourself.


The symptoms aren't always obvious

Symptoms usually start a few weeks after infection with one or more small, painless sores around the genital/anal area which a lot of people don't notice. Some people also get swollen glands in your neck or armpits.

Symptoms usually go away for a few weeks after this but then you may notice other symptoms in the weeks after:

  • 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 in women or around the anus in both men and women

  • white patches in the mouth

  • patchy hair loss

  • tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a high temperature (fever), and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits

These symptoms may pass as the infection becomes latent (hidden) but the infection will still be there and it may start to seriously damage your body.


It's really important to get tested and treated

Syphilis won't go away on its own and if its left untreated, it can cause serious heart, brain and nerve problems years later. It's important to get tested if you think you may have put yourself at risk of getting it or if you have any symptoms.


It's pretty easy to test for

If you don't have any symptoms, the test is usually a simple blood test. If you do have symptoms, the healthcare professional may run a swab over any sores that you may have (don't worry, this doesn't hurt, it's just like a small cotton bud) and ask to do a physical examination where they'll just check for any sores around your genitals or other parts of your body.


...and it's pretty easy to treat too!

Syphilis is usually treated with either a quick injection into your butt cheek (most people will only need one dose) or a course of antibiotics tablets if you can't have the injection.


You can get tested for syphilis and other STIs at the sexual health clinic at Cobridge Community Health Centre.

Condoms are your best defense against STIs. Sign up for a C-Card and get free condoms across Stoke-on-Trent.

#sexualhealth #sti #syphilis

LGBT Stoke is a service provided by the Sexual Health Prevention Team from Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust