How do you get syphilis?

Syphilis is spread through oral, anal, and genital contact. This can be through penetrative sex (bottom or top) and also giving/receiving oral sex.

It is common for syphilis to have no symptoms, so you can have syphilis and not know it. If untreated, syphilis progresses through stages, each of which has different symptoms.

Stages of syphilis infection:

1

Primary syphilis

2

Secondary syphilis

3

Latent stage syphilis

4

Tertiary syphilis

1. Primary syphilis

  • First stage symptoms appear from two weeks to three months after getting the infection.
  • Signs may include a red, often painless sore (or sores) at the site of infection such as on your genitals, mouth, or bum.
  • If untreated the sore/s will go away after a few weeks, however the infection still remains in the body and can be passed onto others.
 
If you would like to see additional pictures of symptoms of secondary syphilis, please click here. Warning: some images contain human genitalia.

2. Secondary syphilis

  • Second stage symptoms can occur from two to six month after initial infection
  • Signs may include non-itchy rashes on the palm of your hands, bottom of feet and other parts of your body.
  • Other signs such as a sore throat, fever, muscle/joint pains, swollen lymph glands and patchy hair loss may also occur.
 
If you would like to see additional pictures of symptoms of secondary syphilis, please click here. Warning: some images contain human genitalia.

3. Latent Stage

  • Early Latent
    • Usually occurs within the first 12 months after an untreated syphilis infection
    • Has no noticeable symptoms, but the body still has the infection and it can still be passed onto others
 
  • Late Latent
    • After roughly two years, syphilis will progress to late latent syphilis and will become non-infectious, except during pregnancy where the infection can still be passed onto the unborn baby. However, you MUST still be treated in order to prevent onset of tertiary syphilis.

4. Tertiary Syphilis

  • Tertiary syphilis will only occur when syphilis is left untreated – this is now very uncommon. Signs may include damage to your body’s organs, and can also lead to death.

Syphilis and HIV

  • Your risk of contracting HIV increases when you or your partner have syphilis
  • Open syphilis sores can allow an entry point of HIV into your body, and syphilis inflammation will attract immune cells that are vulnerable to HIV infection. Remember, syphilis symptoms are not always noticeable
  • Regardless of contracting a syphilis infection, HIV cannot be passed on if people living with HIV are on HIV treatment with a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL).

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