The Ultimate Guide To Syphilis

What Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the Treponema pallidum bacterium (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019). This virus is spread though vaginal, anal and oral sex (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019). But also from mother to baby, usually before birth, and rarely via infected blood products (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

This STI can be cured with antibiotics. But macrolide-resistant strains of Treponema pallidum are now prevalent in several developed countries (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

Common Sexually Transmitted Infections


Genital Herpes






Viral Hepatitis

Male Urethritis Syndrome


Quick Facts About Syphilis

The risk of catching syphilis after having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone with syphilis is between 10% and 60% (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

It’s been called the “great imitator” or “great imposter” because the symptoms are so varied and similar to other infections (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

✔ Historically, syphilis has affected people from all walks of life, from monarchs, painters and philosophers to low income people (Tampa, 2014).

The 2011 South African National Antenatal Sentinel HIV & Syphilis Prevalence Survey showed an overall syphilis prevalence of 1.6% in pregnant women. This is down from 11.2 % when the survey started in 1997 (UCT, 2011).

How Do You Get Syphilis?

Short answer: Syphilis is spread through skin contact with Syphilitic sores (chancres) of an infected people during sexual contact (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

Long answer: Syphilis can be picked up through contact with any syphilitic sores on the skin of an infected person (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019). This bacterium can also be passed on from mother to child via several routes: across the placenta to the foetus, from the birth canal and during breastfeeding if the mother has a lesion on her breast (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

How To Protect Yourself Against Syphilis

You cannot fully protect yourself against Syphilis, but you can lower your chances of exposing yourself from the bacterium by (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019):

✔ Using condoms.

✔ Holding back from having sex when a partner is having symptoms of the bacterium.

Symptoms of Syphilis

Infection with T. pallidum typically is classified into four stages which can span more than 10 years (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019): 1. Primary, 2. Secondary, 3. Latent, and 4. Tertiary stage.

The Primary Stage:
The Start Of Symptoms

After 10–90 days (usually 2–3 weeks) following exposure to Syphilis, a round open sore will appear (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019). People in the primary stage of syphilis may get a single ulcer, is known as a “chancre”; Or they might get multiple lesions.

This sore or multiple sores may appear on the genitals or other body sites which were involved in exposure to the syphilis bacteria, such as the mouth (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

In men, these sores usually appear on the glans penis, while in women it’s generally the vulva or cervix (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

This stage usually starts 4–10 weeks later, with a rash on one or more areas of the body (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

The rash can show up when the sore that appeared during the primary stage is healing or several weeks after the sore has healed (CDC, 2022).

The rash is not itchy, and it is sometimes so faint that its not noticeable. The rash looks: rough, and red / reddish-brown (CDC, 2022).

Other symptoms that may be experienced during this stage (CDC, 2022):

The Secondary Stage

✔ Fever;

✔ Swollen lymph glands;

✔ Sore throat;

✔ Patchy hair loss;

✔ Headaches;

✔ Weight loss;

✔ Muscle aches; and

✔ Fatigue (feeling very tired).

Latent Stage:
No Symptoms

During the latent stage of syphilis there are no visible signs or symptoms of the infection (CDC, 2022).

Without treatment, a person can continue to have syphilis in their body for years (CDC, 2022).

The first 2 years following the disappearance of the symptoms of primary and secondary stages is known as the “early latent” period, and during this time the patient is still infectious (Wilson, & Wilson, 2019).

Most people with untreated syphilis do not develop tertiary syphilis (CDC, 2022).

However, when it does happen, it can affect many different organ systems. These include (CDC, 2022):

✔ The heart

✔ Blood vessels,

✔ The brain

✔ & nervous system.

The Tertiary Stage: Consequences Of Syphilis Untreated

Tertiary syphilis is very serious and would start 10–30 years after the infection began. In tertiary syphilis, the disease damages a persons internal organs and can result in death (CDC, 2022).

Is Syphilis Treatable?

Yes, syphilis is curable with the right antibiotics from one’s healthcare provider (CDC, 2022).

But, its very important to get tested and diagnosed early as treatment might not be able to undo the damage the infection can cause (CDC, 2022).

How To Test For Syphilis With Epicentre

Epicentre offers a range of STI tests, including Syphilis testing.

✔ Walk in Or make a booking online for one of our branches and request an STI screening.

✔ If you’d like to get you’d like to get tested at home, check out our STI Test In a Box.

✔ Unsure? Contact our team. We’re so happy to guide you through this process.

Testing For Syphilis With Epicentre

1. Book an appointment online or just come through to one of our branches.

2. When you arrive, tick on our form that you would like a Syphilis STI test.

Choose just the Syphilis STIs, or get the whole package, or add on particular STIs to screen for.

4. Our nurse will take you through to our blood collection lounge.

5. Our nurses are trained to make the process of collecting a blood sample as painless and comfortable as possible. Simply sit back and relax.

4. Your sample will then be sent to our laboratory. You will receive an SMS and email with a link to your result.

Why Is STI Testing The Start Of A Health Relationship

Regular STI testing helps to protect both partners from potential infections and prevent the spread of STIs to others. It is also a sign of respect and trust for each other, as it shows that both partners are committed to maintaining their sexual health and the health of their relationship.

STI testing is crucial as it begins a relationship with open communication and honesty, which are crucial components of any healthy relationship. By starting with STI testing, partners can set the foundation for a strong and lasting relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and a shared commitment to sexual health.

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