Syphilis is a bacterial infection that's usually caught by having sex with someone who's infected.
It's important to get tested and treated as soon as possible if you think you might have syphilis, as it can cause serious problems if it's left untreated. It can usually be cured with a short course of antibiotics.
You can catch syphilis more than once, even if you've been treated for it before.
Read more about syphilis in pregnancy.
The symptoms of syphilis aren't always obvious and may eventually disappear, but you'll usually remain infected unless you get treated. Some people with syphilis have no symptoms.
Symptoms can include:
- small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, or around the anus, but can occur in other places such as the mouth or vagina
- a blotchy red skin rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- white patches in the mouth
- tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a high temperature (fever), and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits
- small skin growths (that look similar to genital warts) that may develop on the vulva in women or around the anus in both men and women
The only way to find out if you have syphilis is to get tested. The test for syphilis is usually a simple blood test. If you have an ulcer the doctor or nurse may also take a swab.
Blood testing for syphilis is available at all of our clinics.
If you think you have any symptoms or just want testing for syphilis, you should:
- book an appointment online (follow 'symptoms of an STI' from the list)
- freephone 0300 123 5474 (8.00am - 8.00pm, 7 days a week)
- come along to one of our walk-in and wait clinics*
*Our walk-in and wait clinics offer limited slots and operate on a first come first served basis. When clinics are at full capacity, patients asking to be seen will be triaged and those who fit our urgent criteria will be a priority. At busy times we may need to signpost non-urgent cases to other clinics or recommend patients make an appointment for an alternative day or suggest a return visit.
An easier way of getting testing is to request a free STI postal test kit online. The kit is sent in discreet packaging to an address of your choice. When the kit arrives all you need to do is take a finger prick blood test and post it back to us for testing. We then text you your test result within 7 days. All kits come with all the equipment you need, easy to follow instructions and a freepost envelope to post your sample(s) back to us.
If your blood test is positive for syphilis we will contact you and arrange for you to come into clinic as soon as possible. You will be treated with either:
- an injection of antibiotics into your buttocks - most people will only need one dose, although three injections given at weekly intervals may be recommended depending on how long you’ve had syphilis
- a course of antibiotics tablets if you can't have the injection - this will usually last two or four weeks, depending on how long you've had syphilis
You should avoid any kind of sexual activity or close sexual contact with another person until at least two weeks after your treatment finishes.
It's important that your current partner and any other recent partners are also tested and treated - we will discuss this with you when you attend clinic and can offer to contact people on your behalf.
You can prevent syphilis and other STIs by:
- using male condoms or female condoms every time you have vaginal sex or male condoms during anal sex
- using a condom to cover the penis or a latex or plastic square (dam) to cover the female genitals, if you have oral sex
- not sharing sex toys or washing them and covering them with a new condom before anyone else uses them
- not using other people's needles or sharing your needles with others if you ever inject drugs
Visit NHS Choices - Syphilis