Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be spread through vaginal, anal and/or oral sex.  You can also become infected through sharing of equipment for injection or snorting drugs. Infection can also occur following deep, wet kissing.  During pregnancy, a mother infected with syphilis can spread the infection to the developing fetus.

Syphilis cases are on the rise in the Eastern Health region. Have you been tested?


A bacterium called Treponema palladium.


Many people have no symptoms at all but can still transmit syphilis and are at risk for complications. Syphilis infection occurs in three stages:

Primary Syphilis – A painless sore (chancre) appears in the genital area or mouth three days to three months after the initial contact. The sore may heal without treatment within two to six weeks. Syphilis in this stage is highly infectious.

Secondary Syphilis – Two to eight weeks after the appearance of the initial chancre sore other symptoms may develop, such as a rash on the chest or back and/or on the soles of feet and palms of hands, swollen glands and a general feeling of being unwell.

Tertiary Syphilis – Can occur following an untreated infection causing serious health problems to the brain, heart and skin or possibly death.

Neurosyphilis: At any stage, the bacteria can travel through the body and reach the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of this stage can include ringing in the ears, headache, decreased hearing and/or decreased vision.

Did you know?

  • If you have syphilis you are at a greater risk of contracting HIV.
  • If you already have HIV, syphilis can be highly aggressive.
  • Syphilis can be contracted through unprotected oral sex.
  • You can’t tell if someone has an STI by looking at them; the only way to know is to get tested!

Get Tested!

A simple blood test can detect syphilis infection.

If detected early, syphilis can be treated and cured with a long-acting antibiotic injection. If left untreated, syphilis can cause permanent damage to the brain, heart and other organs. In some cases it can be fatal.

To reduce your risk of getting an STI, including syphilis and HIV, follow these practices:

  • Practise safer sex by properly and consistently using a condom or oral dam for each sexual encounter (oral, anal and vaginal.)
  • Get tested! See your healthcare provider or visit a sexual health clinic.
  • You and your partner should get tested for STIs before becoming sexually active.
  • Get tested if you have many sexual partners or when you change sexual partners.
  • Limit your sexual partners.
  • If you use drugs, DO NOT share your equipment.

How to get tested?

  • Contact your family physician or nurse practitioner.
  • Contact Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador at: 1-877-666-9847.
  • Contact your local health authority as per below:

Eastern Health

Eastern Health Sexual Health Clinic
Location: 760 Topsail Road, Mount Pearl Square, Community Services

Services related to this information:

811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555

Public Health Nursing office

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Last updated: 2019-08-22