Syphilis is a Bacterial Infection most commonly transmitted through sexual contact. It has three stages, each of which have their own symptoms which may come and go over time. We test gay, bi and other men who have sex with men for syphilis at our full sexual health screening clinic in partnership with The Northern, on Mondays 12-4pm. Find out more information at: lgbt.foundation/testing
Who is Affected by Syphilis?
Anyone can be infected with Syphilis, regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. some groups of people are more at risk because syphilis is more common within their group, or because of an existing health condition. Gay, Bi and other men who have sex with men are more likely to be infected with Syphilis, and it is easier for people living with HIV to become infected.
How is it Transmitted?
Syphilis can be transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact with a syphilitic sore, also known as a chancre (pronounced: SHANG-kur), so it is possible to get syphilis through vaginal, anal or oral sex, and also through fingering, rimming and fisting.
Condoms, dental dams and fisting gloves can reduce risk, but if the chancre is not covered, then it is still possible to catch syphilis.
What are the Symptoms?
The early symptoms, also known as Primary Syphilis, start to happen two to three weeks after infection, but can occur later. The main symptom is a small, painless sore called a chancre which commonly appear in these places:
- On the penis or vagina
- On or around the anus and buttocks(bum)
- In or around the mouth and lips
- On fingers
People typically only get one chancre, which can be sometimes be hard to spot but sometimes there will be multiple. These will naturally heal in time, though this does not mean that the infection has gone.
Some people will also get swollen glands, which you can feel in your neck, armpit and/or groin(crotch).
These symptoms can last about two to eight weeks, and if it is not treated, it can progress to Secondary Syphilis. The symptoms associated with Secondary Syphilis include:
- A blotchy red rash which typically develops on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, but can appear anywhere
- Tiredness, headaches and flu-like symptoms
- Swollen glands, which you can feel in in your neck, armpit and/or groin(crotch).
- White patches in the mouth
These symptoms typically will pass after a few weeks, though they may come and go over the following months before they disappear. This does not mean that you are cured of Syphilis, you have just entered a phase called Latent Syphilis.
Latent syphilis can last for years, but ultimately will lead to Tertiary Syphilis. This has extreme complications and can have lasting damage. Symptoms include:
- Heart Problems
- Dementia-like symptoms
- Vision problems and potential blindness
Syphilis is treatable at every stage, though the effects of tertiary syphilis can be permanent, so it is better to test regularly and get treatment if you do get a positive result for syphilis.
Testing and Treating Syphilis
It is possible to get tested for syphilis at a Sexual Health (GUM) clinic or if you identify as a gay, bi or any other man who has sex with men, then you can get tested at LGBT Foundation through our full sexual health screening clinic in partnership with The Norther. For more information on when and where to get tested, visit lgbt.foundation/testing.
Syphilis can take 3 to 6 weeks from infection to show in tests, so if you think you have had a risk incident more recently than three weeks, it will not show in the tests.
If you do get a positive result, syphilis is really easy to treat and cure. In its earlier stage it will involve a shot of penicillin in the bum (buttocks) or a 14 day course of antibiotics if you are allergic to penicillin. The treatment requires more time or more injections if you have had syphilis for some time.
If you identify as a gay, bi or any other man who has sex with men, then you can get tested at LGBT Foundation through our full sexual health screening clinic in partnership with The Northern. For more information on when and where to get tested, visit lgbt.foundation/testing