Syphilis, also known as 'the pox', is a very serious disease that can affect your brain and other organs. If it's not treated it can stay in the body for many years and cause serious problems.

Signs and symptoms

  • The first sign of syphilis is a painless sore that appears on the genitals, anus or mouth about three to 12 weeks after sex with an infected person. The sore can be any size or shape. It goes away in a week or two, but the bacteria are still in the body.
  • About six to 12 months after getting infected, a rash appears on the palms of the hands and feet, the face and other parts of the body. Sometimes hair falls out from the eyebrows and head.
  • About two years after infection, there can be damage to the nervous system, the brain and blood system.

Risk factors

Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, that is, without a condom or dam. It can also be spread through intimate skin to skin contact with an infected person.

An infected mother can pass syphilis on to her baby via the placenta during pregnancy.


Syphilis can be treated with prescription antibiotics and cured if treated in the early stages. People who are diagnosed with syphilis will be asked about other people they may have had unprotected sex with because they could also have syphilis. This is called contact tracing.


  • Always use condoms or dams and water-based lubricant.
  • Before you have sex, talk with your partner about the importance of safe sex.
  • Be open with your partner and make sure you or they don't have any other sex partners.
  • Limit your sex partners.
  • Have regular STI tests.


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