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Doctor and Patient


What is Syphilis ?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It has been relatively rare in the UK for several decades, but recent trends show that more people are becoming infected. It can cause serious problems if left untreated.

Syphilis is caused by a bacteria, Treponema pallidium, a spirochete bacterium which is easily passed from person to person through unprotected sexual intercourse or genital contact with an infected partner. Anyone who is sexually active can get it. Both men and women can have syphilis, and pass it on. You can pass syphilis on without knowing you have the infection because symptoms can be mild and you may not notice or recognise them.

Syphilis is classified in 3 stages, primary & secondary. at which point the disease is treatable, but if left untreated, finally develops into tertiary syphilis. Recorded cases of syphilis have increased substantially in the UK recently and there have been some localised outbreaks, mainly amongst drug users and people with HIV.


Symptoms of Syphilis

There may be no symptoms or so mild they may not be noticeable.

The symptoms of primary syphilis may take up to three months to become evident after sex with an infected person, and typically include:

  • one or more sores (ulcers) on the penis, vulva, vagina, cervix, mouth or anus, which may be weeping pus and painful, and last for around 6 weeks

  • small lumps due to swollen glands in the groin.

The symptoms of secondary syphilis usually appear several weeks, after any ulcers have gone. They can disappear after a few more weeks, but can re-occur for years. Symptoms of this stage include:

  • a non-itchy rash of dark patches, often on the palms and soles

  • feeling generally unwell, fever, extreme tiredness and malaise, headaches

  • wart-looking growths on the genitals

  • white patches inside the mouth

  • patchy hair loss (alopecia)

  • and more rarely, major body organs such as the liver, kidneys and brain begin to be affected.

Primary and secondary stage syphilis is highly infectious.

The symptoms of the secondary stage may actually disappear and the infection can lie dormant for many years (latent syphilis), but in time tertiary syphilis develops which can seriously damage major body systems and organs.

Testing for Syphilis

The doctor will ask you to give a blood sample. The Doctor will also do a genital examination, which may include an internal examination of the vagina and anus, as well as an examination of other parts of the body.

The doctor will use a swab to collect a sample from any sores. The swab is wiped over any sores which easily picks up samples of fluid. It only takes a few seconds and is not usually painful, though it may be uncomfortable for a moment. Swabs may be used to collect samples from:

  • the cervix, during an internal examination in women

  • the genital area

  • the penis and foreskin

  • the urethra

  • the anus

  • the mouth

  • sores anywhere else on the body

Test Results

Syphilis tests include VDRL and TPPA Tests; the results will be available the next day.

Test results are available by telephone or email.

Treatment of Syphilis

The usual treatment of first and second stage syphilis is simple and involves an antibiotic injection, or a course of injections, or taking antibiotic tablets or capsules. Penicillin is the most common treatment for syphilis. Sexual partners should be informed, and sexual contact should be avoided until the Doctor advises when to have sex again.

Treatment is very effective. Treatment at any time during the first two stages of syphilis should cure the infection.

Your blood test will remain positive in any future tests – even after successful treatment. The Doctor will arrange follow appointments for further blood tests, to monitor effects of treatment.


Prevention of Syphilis

Using a condom reduces the risk of catching syphilis, although condoms may not cover all affected areas. The infection can also be passed during oral sex or kissing an infected person. People can become re-infected, even if they have had effective treatment for syphilis before.

Complications from Syphilis

Without proper treatment the infection can spread to other parts of the body causing damage and serious long-term complications.

Left untreated syphilis may start to cause very serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, other internal organs, bones and the nervous system. This damage could be fatal. If a woman has untreated syphilis she may pass the infection to her baby in the womb. This can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, or the baby being born with the infection.


I May Have Syphilis

If you have any concerns relating to this condition, or any conditions described on this website, please contact the Sunshine Clinic by telephone to arrange an appointment with Dr Sood, 0845 505 0552

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