Myth Busting: Syphilis

This content has been developed in partnership with HIV Scotland and Long Time No Syph.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Find out more below! 

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is an STI and is transmitted by close contact from one person to another. Syphilis is caused by an infectious bacteria. The bacteria enters the body during close body contact through small breaks in the skin. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to very serious health complications.

Can syphilis be cured?

Typically, syphilis can be easily cured with a short course of antibiotics. The sooner syphilis is diagnosed, the easier the treatment is.

If I get it treated once will I get it again?

It’s possible to have syphilis more than once, even if you’ve been treated for it before.

How will I know I have it?

Lots of people with syphilis don’t know they have it. Having regular sexual health check-ups will help to diagnose syphilis if you have no symptoms.

If you think you have syphilis it’s important to get tested as soon as you can. 

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Symptoms of syphilis are similar in both men and women but they change over time.

Early symptoms that develop around 2-3 weeks after infection include:

  • a small, painless sore or several sores called a chancre typically around your genitals, fingers or mouth
  • swollen glands in your neck, groin, or armpits 

If the infection is not treated it can progress and you may display late symptoms.

Late symptoms include: 

  • a blotchy red rash often develops on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet but can appear anywhere on the body
  • small skin growths around the genitals
  • white patches in the mouth
  • flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches, joint pains and a high temperature
  • swollen glands
  • occasionally, patchy hair loss

Isn’t syphilis a thing of the past?

No – it's actually on the increase. The number of people in the UK diagnosed with syphilis has more than doubled since 2012. 

Why is it on the increase?

Many of us haven't heard about syphilis, or know little about it. We think of it as something that was common in the 1970s and has gone away. But syphilis is back.

I’m not sleeping with that many people – so I probably won’t get syphilis, right?

Anyone who is having sex can get syphilis. But syphilis can be more common in different groups of people. 

Check out more information on how exposure to syphilis can affect certain groups of individuals.

What to do if you think you have syphilis.

If you think you have syphilis or any STI you need to get tested. You can get tested by visiting a sexual health clinic. It's important to get tested so you can receive the right treatment and protect others. If you receive a positive test you should be in contact with a doctor or a nurse who will be able to prescribe you with a course of antibiotics as treatment. 

For more information and everything you need to know about STI's, take a look on our sexual health information page.