Syphilis is a sexually transmitted and blood borne infection (STBBI) that spreads through vaginal, anal and/or oral sex. A pregnant person with syphilis can pass it on to their unborn child, sometimes causing birth defects or death.

It can also spread through sharing equipment used for injecting drugs.


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 (three days – three months after contact): A painless sore (chancre) appears in the genital and/or anal, or mouth area. The sore may heal without treatment within two to six weeks. Syphilis in this stage is highly infectious.
  • Secondary syphilis (six weeks – six months after contact): 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 (two – 30 years or more after contact): Can occur following an untreated infection causing serious health problems to the brain, heart and skin, and can lead to 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.

Testing and Treatment

A 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 and can be fatal.

Prevention is key to protecting yourself and your partner from STBBIs.  Click here for information about safer sex.

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Last updated: 2023-07-25