What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria called Treponema pallidum.

Men and women can get syphilis.

How do I get syphilis?

You can get syphilis by:

  • touching some one’s syphilis sore or rash even if the sore or rash is difficult to see
  • having oral, vaginal or anal sex without a condom.
  • contact with infected blood
  • pregnant women can pass syphilis to her baby

Syphilis and babies (congenital syphilis)

A pregnant woman can pass syphilis to her baby through blood. Sometimes, the baby can be born dead or damaged. This is called congenital syphilis and it’s rare in Australia.

Babies are often born without symptoms of syphilis, but they can get very sick.

How do I know if I have syphilis?

Often there are no symptoms of syphilis, so people with syphilis can feel healthy and well. Only a blood test can tell you if you have syphilis.

Women should have a syphilis test in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or at their first visit to the doctor. Some women may be re-tested for syphilis later in the pregnancy.

What do I do if I have syphilis?

  • Stop sex, even with a condom, until after you’ve finished your treatment for syphilis.
  • If you have syphilis, tell your sex partner or partners so they can be tested.

Your doctor will help you decide who you need to tell that you have syphilis and can help you to tell them.

Can syphilis be treated or cured?

  • Yes, syphilis can be treated or cured with a course of injections. The length of treatment depends on what stage the syphilis is at. Make sure you go to every doctor’s appointment.
  • After you finish your treatment for syphilis you must have another test to make sure you’re cured.
  • Women can have treatment for syphilis early in pregnancy to stop the baby getting syphilis.
  • You can catch syphilis again even if you’ve been cured of syphilis in the past.

How can I protect myself from getting syphilis?

  • Get yourself and your sex partner tested for syphilis. Get tested regularly for syphilis if you have more than one sex partner or your partner has sex with other people. The more sex partners you have, the higher the risk of getting syphilis.
  • Get yourself and your partners treated so you don’t keep giving syphilis to each other or giving it to other people.
  • Use condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex, even with your long-time partner if you also have sex with other people.
  • Talk to new partners about using condoms before you have sex with them
  • Do not have sex with a person with syphilis, even with a condom, until their treatment is finished.

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

  • Do not have sex with anyone, even with a condom, until your treatment is finished.
  • Get tested for syphilis regularly if you have more than one sex partner or your partner has sex with other people. You can get syphilis 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

More information