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What is syphilis?


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection which, until recently, was very uncommon in Britain. It is passed on very easily and can have serious consequences if not treated.


Why has it increased?


Recent years have seen the growth of venues and new opportunities to meet partners in cruising areas and on the internet. This increases the opportunity for men to have multiple partners.


Are all gay men at risk from syphilis?


All gay men who have sex are at risk. The North East has seen a 500 per cent increase in the number of reported cases of syphilis since last year.


What are the symptoms?


Syphilis goes through three stages, but it is possible to be infected and have no symptoms. Most people diagnosed with syphilis are unaware they had it until they are tested.


First stage (primary syphilis)


A few weeks after getting infected most people get a sore/s, usually on their penis, balls, and bum or in their mouth. You may not notice it if it is inside your bum or throat. The sore will heal on its own.

The glands nearest to the sore (in the neck or groin) may swell up.


Second stage (secondary syphilis)


A skin rash can appear, often on your feet and hands; you may also have flu-like symptoms, swollen glands or patchy hair loss. You may get wart like growths around your bum or ulcers in your mouth or on your penis. You might ignore the sores and rash, especially as they go away but you could still have syphilis and can give it to others.


Third stage (tertiary syphilis)


Over the next few years there’ll be no signs anything is wrong but your heart, brain, eyes, bones, liver and nervous system can all be damaged. Most people with syphilis have it spotted and treated before this stage.


Can I have syphilis without showing any symptoms?


Not everyone shows symptoms – although most do. If you have no visible symptoms but think you have put yourself at risk, please contact MESMAC or your local Sexual Health service.


What kind of sex passes on syphilis?


The syphilis bacteria is very infectious and can be passed on with most types of sex. Many recent cases in the North East have come from sucking without necessarily fucking. Using condoms for all sexual activities reduces the risk.


Is kissing safe?


If a syphilis sore is in your mouth or throat then kissing, licking or sucking can pass on the disease.


How can I know if I’ve got syphilis?


The usual test is a blood test. If you catch syphilis it can take up to three months to show up on a blood test. If there’s a sore, fluid in it is tested. The best place to get tested is at any Sexual Health clinic because your visit remains confidential.


How is syphilis treated?


Treatment involves a course of antibiotics. Blood tests check that syphilis has been cured. To avoid re-infection (because you can catch syphilis back again) sexual partners should be also tested and if necessary treated.


How is syphilis prevented?


Using a condom for sucking and fucking prevents contact with sores on someone’s penis, in their bum or mouth. But condoms don’t guarantee protection as the syphilis bacteria are very easy to pass on. Touching the rash or sores is best avoided. Latex gloves for fisting prevents against contact with sores in someone’s bum.


Fast track to treatment.


Because syphilis is easy to pass on and potentially harmful if not treated, North East sexual health services will see people with syphilis symptoms much quicker than the normal waiting times. If you have any symptoms please ask to speak with a nurse when arranging an appointment.

If you suspect you have syphilis, then call your nearest Sexual Health Service . If you need help to make an appointment, please call MESMAC and we will help you.


Download MESMAC’s Sexual Health Booklet with information on syphilis and other STI’s HERE!