Syphilis: All you need to know about the STI

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Deal with syphilis early on and you'll be spared a lot of pain at a later date

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Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is usually passed on through having sex with someone who is infected. It initially appears as red sores on the contact areas, ie, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and skin.

How do you catch syphilis?
It's transmitted when someone touches a sore on a person who has the infection during oral, vaginal or anal activity. The syphilis organism is called a 'spirochete', can remain in the body for life. There are some very nasty side-effects if you don't get it treated.

How do you know you've got it?
There are three stages. Stage one is red lesions on the penis, labia (lips of the vagina), anus and sometimes on the mouth and lips - it depends where you came into contact with the syphilis. Stage two can include a fever, rash, muscle fatigue and a sore throat. Stage three (ominously) has no symptoms, but this doesn't mean you're off the hook. Left untreated, syphilis can cause heart failure, insanity, paralysis and possibly death. It is also easier for HIV to infect a person if they have a syphilis sore.

How do you treat it?
The good news is that if you catch it in the early stages a single dose of penicillin can cure it. So get down to your GP or click here to find out more on the NHS website.

How can I protect myself?
Condoms are your safest bet, although syphilis can be present on other parts of the skin not protected by one. So if you're in any doubt about yourself or your partner, the only way to be sure is to get tested.

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