What is it?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacteria.  It can be potentially life threatening if it is not treated.  New cases of Syphilis infection are on the rise in Ireland.

It is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, mouth or in the rectum.  They are quite distintive to look at.

Syphilis can be passed on from mother to child during birth.  Congenital Syphilis in babies causes irreversible health problems, or death in as many as 40% of all live babies born to women with an untreated infection.  If you are pregnant it is really important to get tested.

Did you know…

Syphilis can give you heart and sight problems if left untreated? It is easily curable with antibiotics if you are tested and treated early enough.

What are the symptoms?

There are three stages of Syphilis infection: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.  There can be long periods of time between the phases.  In particular between the secondary and tertiary phase.  This is called the latent phase.  In between the phases, the patient often has no symptoms.

Primary syphilis is marked by a sore.  This is usually in the genital area, but oral syphilis is becoming increasingly common.  The sore lasts two days to two weeks. Then the patient may not experience further symptoms.

If the primary phase is left untreated, six weeks to six months later, they will usually develop secondary symoptoms.  These can include:

  • rashes
  • fever
  • swollen glands
  • sore throat
  • hair loss
  • headaches
  • muscle aches

There then may be a period of months or years before the tertiarty stage.  During this latent period, damage can be occuring to the body, damaging the internal organs, brain, nerves, eyes, heart etc.  The tertiary stage of syphilis can be fatal.

Syphilis testing 

A small blood sample is needed for the test. Results are available the same day that your sample is received in the laboratory. At some Better2Know clinics in Ireland you can have an instant test with results available in around 20 minutes.


Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics.  A prescription is available from your Better2Know doctor.  You can also choose to go to your own doctor following your test, or you can take your result to a sexual health centre.

Adverse consequences

An untreated case of Syphilis can be fatal or cause long term damage to vital organs..  There is an increased risk of contracting other STIs including HIV as the immune system is weaker.  It is important to get tested regularly and to get the infection treated.

For pregnant women there can be further complications which may include miscarriages, premature births, stillbirths, or death of newborn babies. There is also risk of deformities, delays in development or seizures along with many other problems such as rash, fever, swollen liver and spleen, anaemia and jaundice. If it is undiagnosed in infants, it can cause damage to their bones, teeth, eyes, ears, and brain. 

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