In the UK syphilis is quite uncommon. However, in recent years the numbers of cases has increased.
Syphilis is especially significant in pregnant women where infection can cause miscarriage, still birth, or foetal abnormality.
Who gets syphilis?
Anyone who has sex can get syphilis. The risk is increased by having unprotected sex (i.e. not using a condom), by having lots of sexual partners, and changing partners frequently
Gay men and other men who have sex with men are at higher risk
How do you catch syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection. It is caught through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal intercourse or genital contact with an infected person.
Someone with syphilis will often have no symptoms, but can still transmit the infection.
Syphilis cannot be caught by casual contact (toilet seats, swimming pools and saunas).
A pregnant woman with infectious syphilis can pass it to her foetus via the placenta or during birth.
How do you know that you have syphilis?
The symptoms of syphilis are not specific. The illness usually begins with one or more painless but highly infectious sores (primary infection) appearing anywhere on the body (but usually at the site of infection) but they clear up on their own fairly quickly. This does not mean that the infection has gone away. Secondary symptoms may develop 6 weeks to 6 months after the primary sores. Later symptoms are highly variable, but may include a rash on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
Late syphilis occurs four or more years after an untreated primary infection. It can damage the heart, respiratory tract or central nervous system.
How is syphilis treated?
All the different stages of syphilis can be treated with antibiotics.
It's really important for all current and recent sexual partners of a person with syphilis to be tested and treated to prevent re-infection and the further spread of the infection. Treatment is offered whether or not they show any signs of infection.
How can you protect yourself against syphilis?
Sexually active men and women can reduce their risk of syphilis by using condoms correctly and consistently during sexual intercourse.