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Syphilis is a less common STI. Boys and men who have sex with men are the most likely to get infected. It is passed on during sex, especially if you don’t use condoms. Syphilis is easy to treat with drugs. That usually gets rid of the infection. If it’s not treated, then you may have more severe symptoms.

Video: Doctor Hanna about syphilis


Signs and symptoms

Symptoms could appear from 2 to 12 weeks after you’ve had sex.
The first symptoms of syphilis are:

  • Ulcers (sores) on your penis, vagina or anus. These are usually painless
  • Sores in or around your mouth. They are usually painless
  • Swollen glands

The sores usually disappear after 3 to 6 weeks. But the STI is still in your body. You may get more severe symptoms later on. Even if the sores have gone, you should still see your doctor.

Not gone to the doctor?

If you don’t go to your doctor for treatment, you may get these symptoms:

  • Skin rash: marks all over your body, particularly on your hands and feet
  • Flat warts on your penis, vagina or anus
  • Flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, sore throat, feeling tired
  • Hair loss, bald patches on your head
  • Problems with your eyes and vision
  • After many years: damage to your heart, brain, spinal cord and bones

Treatment for syphilis

Syphilis is easy to treat with drugs. Do you think you could have this STI? Perhaps because:

  • You had sex without a condom
  • You have symptoms
  • You had sex with someone who has syphilis

Then go to your doctor or a GGD Sense clinic for an STI test.

Not sure whether you need to have an STI test? If you answer a few questions, we can give you some advice.
Do the STI check

Telling people you have syphilis

If you have syphilis, tell the people you’ve had sex with recently. Then they can get tested and treated too. Talk to the doctor about who you should tell. 

If this is difficult for you to do, your doctor or someone at the Sense clinic can help you do it online. You don’t have to say who you are.

More about syphilis

For gay and bisexual men

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