Syphilis – A Guide


Syphilis: A Guide to Understanding and Managing the Infection

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It can have severe consequences if left untreated. In recent years, the rates of syphilis have been rising in many communities worldwide, including the UK, making it crucial to be aware of this infection and take necessary precautions to protect yourself and your sexual partners.

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can progress through different stages if not treated. It is primarily transmitted through sexual contact but can also be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth. Syphilis has three distinct stages: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Each stage presents different symptoms and health risks.

How is Syphilis Spread?

Syphilis is most commonly spread through direct contact with syphilis sores, known as chancres, which can be present on the genitals, anus, lips, or mouth. The infection can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

How Can I Prevent Syphilis?

Practicing safe sex is crucial for preventing syphilis and other STIs. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Use condoms consistently and correctly during sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
  2. Get tested for STIs regularly, especially if you have multiple sexual partners or engage in high-risk sexual behaviour.
  3. Encourage your partner(s) to get tested for syphilis and other STIs.
  4. If you’re unsure about your partner’s STI status, consider delaying sexual activity until both of you have been tested and cleared.

How Can I Get Tested for Syphilis?

You can get tested for syphilis at Unity Sexual Health, local community clinics, or your general practitioner (GP). Testing typically involves a blood test or a sample from a sore, if present. It’s important to discuss your concerns and symptoms with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate testing method.

If I Test Positive for Syphilis, What Happens Next?

If your test results confirm a syphilis infection, it’s important to seek treatment promptly. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Contact the service where you were tested or your healthcare provider to discuss your results.
  2. Treatment for syphilis usually involves a course of antibiotics, such as penicillin, which can effectively eliminate the infection.
  3. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions regarding medication dosage and duration. It’s important to complete the full course of treatment.
  4. Inform your current and recent sexual partners about your diagnosis, so they can get tested and receive treatment if necessary. This helps prevent reinfection and the spread of syphilis.
  5. You will need to have follow-up blood tests at 3, 6, 12 and 24 months to ensure the treatment is working.
  6. In future, your initial syphilis test will always be positive. This does not mean that you have the infection – only that you have had it at some point in the past. It is important to attend follow-up appointments to ensure new infections are not missed.

Partner Notification for Syphilis

If you test positive for syphilis, it’s important to notify your sexual partners so that they can get tested and treated as well. You can use various methods to communicate this information, such as face-to-face conversations, phone calls, emails, social media messages, or text messages. Being honest and providing them with testing and treatment information is crucial to protect their health. Health Advisers at Unity can assist in contacting partners if you struggle to do so yourself.

Here are some tips for talking to your partners about your diagnosis:

  1. Be honest and direct about your diagnosis.
  2. Let your partners know when you were last tested and what the results were.
  3. Inform them that they can get tested for free at a sexual health clinic or their GP.
  4. Offer to help your partners get tested and provide support throughout the process.
  5. Remember, it can take up to 3 months for syphilis to be detected in a blood test. It is recommended all partners repeat their tests 3 months after your last sexual contact with them.

Click here to download a detailed leaflet about Syphilis

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