What is syphilis?

Syphilis is an infection that you can get when you have unprotected sex with someone who has syphilis.

Both men and women can get syphilis.

How do I get syphilis?

• When someone has syphilis they get sores and rashes around their genitals. Sometimes they can be hard to see. You can get syphilis by touching these sores or rashes.

• Having anal, vaginal or oral sex with someone without a condom.

• Contact with the blood of someone who’s got syphilis.

• Pregnant women who have syphilis can pass syphilis on to their babies.

Syphilis and babies (congenital syphilis)

Syphilis can affect babies. Congenital syphilis is when an unborn baby catches syphilis from its mum. This can cause babies to be still born (miscarried) or with health problems

Babies born with congenital syphilis might not show any symptoms, but they can get very sick.

How do I know if I have syphilis?

People can have syphilis without having any symptoms. This makes getting a blood test really important.

Pregnant women should get tested in the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy or at their first visit to the doctor. Some women may be tested again later in their pregnancy. If your baby is nearly due and you haven’t been to the doctor yet, it’s important to get a syphilis test as soon as you can, to help look after the baby.

If you find out you have syphilis it’s important to:

• Stop having sex, and that includes sex with a condom, until you’ve finished your treatment.
• Tell the people you’ve been having sex with so they can get tested too.
• A doctor can help you decide who you need to tell. If you’re worried about how to tell them or what to say, the doctor can help you with what to say.

Can syphilis be treated or cured?

• Yes, syphilis can be treated or cured with a course of injections. The length of the treatment will depend on what stage the syphilis is at. It’s really important that you go to every appointment during your treatment to make sure the treatment works.
• At the end of the treatment another test can let you know if you’ve been cured.
Its important to get treated for syphilis during pregnancy, and the earlier the better.
• Being treated or cured of syphilis doesn’t mean you’re protected from syphilis in the future. It’s something you can catch again.

How can I protect myself from getting syphilis?

• Get yourself and your sex partner tested. The more people you have sex with the higher the risk you may get Syphilis, so if you’re having sex with more than one person get tested more often.
• Get yourself and your partners treated so you don’t keep giving syphilis to each other or other people.
• Use condoms when you have vaginal, anal or oral sex, even with your long-term term partner if you are also having sex with other people.
• Talk to new partners about using condoms before you have sex with them.
• Don’t have sex with a person who is being treated for syphilis, even with a condom, until their treatments finished and they have been cured. This is the only way to be sure you won’t catch it from them.

How can I make sure I don’t give syphilis to someone else?

• Hold off on having sex with anyone until your treatment is finished. You can still give someone syphilis during your treatment, even when using a condom.
• Get tested for syphilis regularly if you have more than one sex partner or your partner has sex with other people. Getting treated and cured for syphilis doesn’t protect you in the future. You can catch it again.

Where can I get help and advice?

You can get help from:

• a doctor
• a sexual health clinic
• community health service
• family planning centres
• Your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Medical Service

More information