Syphilis is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection. Syphilis is less common than some other STIs but is on the rise in the UK.

Syphilis can be passed on through unprotected vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex (kissing, licking or sucking someone's genitals). If people share sex toys and do not wash them or cover them with a condom every time then they can pass syphilis on as well.

The symptoms of syphilis can be very mild, and you may not know you have it. So it's possible to pass it on without realising it.

How to recognise it

Syphilis can develop in three stages:

  • The first stage: called primary syphilis
  • The second stage: called secondary syphilis
  • The third or latent stage: called tertiary syphilis.

Primary symptoms start with a painless sore, usually on or near the vagina or penis, but sometimes in the mouth or anus.

Secondary symptoms may include a rash on the body and flu-like symptoms.

Tertiary syphilis is very rare in the UK and you are not likely to experience it.

How it's treated

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. If it is left untreated, it can cause heart problems and dementia. If contracted in pregnancy it can cause stillbirth or congenital infection.

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