Syphilis is transmitted:
- by sexual contact (vaginal, oral and/or anal)
- by direct contact with the lesions (chancres and red patches)
- during pregnancy (from mother to child).
Syphilis has three stages with specific symptoms:
Stage 1. Symptoms usually appear between 3 and 90 days after infection: a painless ulcer (called a chancre) on the genitals, the anus, in the mouth, sometimes even on the skin. The chancre disappears by itself after 3 to 6 weeks, but you are still a carrier and therefore a contaminant for others !
Stage 2. Symptoms occur 7-10 weeks after infection: fever, fatigue and skin problems with a rash (red patches) on the back, stomach, hands and feet. Stage 2 can also occur at the same time as stage 1 as years later. The pimples disappear by themselves but you are still a carrier and therefore a contaminant for others !
Stage 3. Without treatment, syphilis can go on for years without symptoms (up to 30 years!). At this stage, it causes serious complications.
Consequences if undetected and untreated
If not treated in time, syphilis can progress to stage 3 and cause serious cardiac or neurological complications (stroke, loss of coordination, insensitivity, paralysis, loss of sight, deafness). This complication is more common in people living with HIV.
Syphilis is treated with injectable antibioticswhich are very effective for the first two stages of the disease.
The third stage of syphilis remains more difficult to treat.
There is nothing to stop syphilis from coming back once treated and cured!
To protect yourself from syphilis, you should :
- use sterile injection equipment
- avoid contact with blood (tattooing - single use needle and ink pot, piercing - single use or sterilised needle) and contact with skin rashes
- use a condom (internal or external) and a square of latex
Symptoms of syphilis may never appear or may disappear after you have been infected, so protect yourself and your partners after you have taken a risk!
Condoms reduce the risk of exposure but do not offer complete protection as syphilis can be transmitted through sexual touching and oral sex.
A person who has sex with a syphilis chancre is at greater risk of getting HIV or another STI.
Regular screening for people with multiple partners: Syphilis is well treatable and inconsequential when diagnosed early.