What is it, how do you get it and how can you get rid of it?
Spyhilis: The Facts
- Syphilis is a bacterial infection that enters your body through broken skin in the areas surrounding the genitals: That's your vagina, your penis or your anus (bum).
- It can be spread through contact with syphilis sores and passed on while kissing or having unprotected sex.
What symptoms should I look out for?
Syphilis is a tricky infection in that half of those infected might never show symptoms but it's really important to watch out for them as the infection develops in three stages.
There's no difference in symptoms for men and women.
Stage One: Primary Infection
- Syphilis initially takes anywhere between 9 and 90 days to rear its head. This is known as the incubation period, when the infection makes itself at home in your body.
- It will usually appear around three weeks after exposure as a painless ulcer (similar to a cold sore) in the genital, anal or mouth area.
Stage Two: Secondary Infection
- You move into the second stage of the infection after an incubation period of between 6 weeks and 6 months after exposure.
- At this time a red spotty rash develops, typically on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, but it may also appear elsewhere on your body. Remember, this rash is usually not itchy!
- Other symptoms include: fever, swollen glands, hair loss, a sore throat, headaches, muscle aches, tiredness and weight loss.
Stage Three: Tertiary Syphilis
- This final stage can kick in months or years after your body has been exposed to the infection.
- It's rare but, if you don't treat it, it can cause serious damage to the nervous system and other internal organs and occasionally prove fatal.
Is it true that babies can get it too?
Yes, syphilis can be passed on from the mother to the baby. If someone has the infection while pregnant they run the risk of having a stillbirth.
Babies born to mothers with syphilis may also have congenital defects such as deafness, neurological impairment and bone deformities. If the mother is not treated immediately, an infected baby could be born without symptoms and develop them within a few weeks.
The symptoms can prove far more serious for babies, have a big effect on their development, give them seizures and even lead to their death.
How do I get rid of the infection?
Well, the first and most important step is to visit your doctor or a screening clinic to have it diagnosed. This can be done in two ways: By examining a sample of one of the infectious sores under a microscope or through a simple blood test. Pregnant woman in Ireland are offered a blood test for syphilis in early pregnancy due to the risk the infection can pose to the baby.
- Firstly, you'll be offered antibiotics. This is the only treatment for syphilis, and it's very effective. It's incredibly important that you do NOT have sexual intercourse for at least two weeks after treatment and abstain from sexual contact with new partners until all of the sores have completely healed.
- Tell your sexual partners that you have the infection because they'll need to get themselves checked out and may require treatment too.
- You'll also need to have follow-up blood tests to make sure that the infection is responding to treatment.
Don't panic! Syphilis is very treatable if you catch it early. It's just extremely important to treat all sexual partners of diagnosed patients.
What can I do to avoid getting it in the first place?
You've heard it a million times over but that's only because it's important: Don't have unprotected sex.
- Always use a condom during vaginal, anal and oral sex performed on a penis.
- During oral-vaginal or oral-anal (rimming) sex, always use a dental dam.
Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.