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Syphilis Signs & Symptoms

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is usually caught by having unprotected sex with someone who is infected. Syphilis is slightly different from other sexually transmitted infections, as symptoms and effects come in stages.

A few years ago, NHS Lanarkshire had issued a warning about syphilis, following a rise in the numbers of cases diagnosed by Lanarkshire sexual health services.

How does it spread?

Syphilis is spread through sex but also through direct contact of a syphilis rash or sore.

If a pregnant woman is infected, it can be very dangerous for the baby if not treated. Screening for syphilis during pregnancy is offered to all women to detect and treat it before it comes to this.


Signs and Symptoms?

As mentioned, syphilis comes in 3 stages… but in the first stages, people don’t always show symptoms, but these are things to look out for.

Stage 1

Painful sores on your genitals that can take 2-4 to heal fully. Sores can appear in your mouth if you’ve performed oral sex.

*If stage 1 is left untreated, stage 2 will usually occur a few weeks later*.

Stage 2

  • White patches on the tongue/roof of the mouth

  • Painless non-itchy rash that can appear on the body (most commonly on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands)

  • Flat, wart-like growths on the lips of the vagina and anus

  • Patchy hair loss

  • Full like symptoms including tiredness, swollen glands, loss of appetite etc

*If syphilis is left untreated for a long period of time, it can progress to stage 3*.

Stage 3

Symptoms from stage 2 can often go away after serval weeks, but this does not mean the infection is gone. If it progresses onto stage 3, it can start to cause serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, internal organs, bones and nervous system. At this stage, the infection can be life-threatening.



Although syphilis is curable, if it is left to stage 3 – more serious problems can’t be reversed.

Treatment usually involves an injection of antibiotics in your bum (most people will need 1 dose, however depending on how long you’ve had the infection you could need 3 injections, given at weekly intervals).

Or a course of antibiotics tablets if you cannot have the injection, usually lasting between 2-4 weeks, again depending on how long you have had the infection for.

You should not have sexual contact with anyone until AT LEAST 2 weeks after your treatment finishes.

Wearing a condom will help protect you against most STI’s and getting regular sexual health checkups when you change your sexual partner. It’s so important if you are ever treated for an STI that you tell your current or previous sexual partners so they can get a checkup and treatment too, if needed.

Useful sites and further reading;

You can find out more about sexual health and STIs on our website

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