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Syphilis is a bacterial sexually transmissible infection.
Syphilis is passed on by direct contact during oral, vaginal or anal sex with a person who has syphilis.
It is highly contagious when sores or rashes are present.
Syphilis can be transmitted from mother (or pregnant person) to baby during pregnancy.
Not all people with syphilis have symptoms, so you may not know you have it unless you have a blood test.
There are four stages of syphilis infection. Symptoms vary depending on the infection stage. People with primary, secondary and early latent syphilis are infectious to their sexual partners.
Your doctor may suggest the diagnosis of syphilis based on the appearance of a genital sore or body rash.
They may do a swab test from sores and rashes to detect syphilis DNA (genetic material). They will also order blood tests. The blood tests measure antibodies - your body’s response to infection. It can take 3 months to develop antibodies, so the tests may be negative early on.
One antibody test looks for syphilis infection and another looks for activity of infection. Blood tests are also used to monitor your body’s response to treatment and may help work out how long you have had the infection.
If you are pregnant, a blood test should be done to check if you have syphilis. It is important to have this blood test to make sure that if you have syphilis you can be treated and will not pass syphilis on to your baby or cause complications in your pregnancy.
Syphilis is treated with penicillin. If you are allergic to penicillin, there are alternative treatments.
Although the treatment is straightforward, it is important to have repeat blood tests to check that the treatment has worked. Follow up blood tests may be recommended at 3, 6 and 12 months after treatment.
After treatment with penicillin some people (particularly those who have early syphilis) have a flu-like illness for 24 hours. This includes fever, aches and pains and generally feeling unwell. These symptoms will go away and don't require any specific treatment, except plenty of rest and fluids.
You should not have sex until your rash or sore clears up and at least one week after treatment.
Left untreated, some people develop tertiary syphilis. This can happen 10 to 30 years after the initial infection.
Tertiary syphilis can cause serious health problems, mainly in the brain and heart.
Syphilis during pregnancy can cause problems for your baby, like miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and death after birth.
Using condoms or dams during sex greatly reduces the risk of being infected with syphilis.
If you are pregnant, make sure you have the syphilis screening blood test in your first trimester.
When you've been diagnosed with an STI like this, all of your sexual partners from the last few months should be checked by a doctor.
It is very important that all your sex partners (regular and casual) are checked because if STIs are not treated they may cause serious problems later on.
If you have difficulty telling your partners, you can use Let Them Know for sample conversations, emails, text messages and letters you can send to your partners either personally or anonymously.
This fact sheet provides general sexual health information and is not intended to replace the need for a consultation with your doctor.
If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your doctor.
If you require urgent care, you should go to your nearest Emergency Department or call 000.