• bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact
  • disease starts as a painless sore — typically on your genitals, rectum or mouth


primary syphilis

  1. the main symptom is a small, painless sore or ulcer called a chancre that you might not notice
  2. the sore will typically be on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, although they can sometimes appear in the mouth or on the lips, fingers or buttocks
  3. most people only have one sore, but some people have several
  4. you may also have swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits

secondary syphilis

  1. a blotchy red rash that can appear anywhere on the body, but often develops on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  2. small skin growths
  3. white patches in the mouth
  4. flu-like symptoms,
  5. swollen glands
  6. occasionally, patchy hair loss


The four stages of syphilis are:

  1. primary
  2. secondary
  3. latent
  4. tertiary


  1. cause of syphilis is a bacterium called Treponema pallidum
  2. direct unprotected close contact with an active lesion (such as during kissing)
  3. infected mother to her baby

Risk factors

  • Engage in unprotected sex
  • Have sex with multiple partners
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS

Diagnostic Tests

  • physical examination – a doctor or nurse will ask to examine your genitals (and inside the vagina for women) or other parts of your body to look for growths or rashes that may be caused by syphilis
  • blood test – this can show whether you have syphilis or have had it in the past; repeating the test a few weeks later may be recommended if it’s negative, in case it was too early to give an accurate result
  • swab test – a swab (similar to a cotton bud) is used to take a small sample of fluid from any sores, so it can be checked for syphilis
  • collecting a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (spinal tap)


  • Antibiotics for syphilis
  • Side effects of treatment
  • Avoiding sex during treatment
  • Notifying and treating sexual partners
  • Treating syphilis during pregnancy


  • penicillin injection
  • doxycycline
  • azithromycin
  • ceftriaxone


  • avoid having sex with multiple partners
  • use a dental dam (a square piece of latex) or condoms during oral sex
  • avoid sharing sex toys
  • get screened for sexually transmitted infections and talk to your partners about their results