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As at April 2014
What is syphilis?
How is syphilis treated?
Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum and
can progress chronically.
Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. If recognised early, the
infection is curable.
How is syphilis transmitted?
Should sexual partners get treatment as well?
Syphilis can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal intercourse with an infected person in a contagious phase.
The person concerned should consider, together with her or
his physician, where the infection might have come from and
whom it might already have been passed on to. Those sexual
partners should be informed about the diagnosis so they can
get a medical exam and, if necessary, treatment.
What are its symptoms and its consequences?
If untreated, syphilis manifests in different stages:
The first signs and symptoms can appear as early as one
week and as late as three months after infection, for example
as red spots, lumps or sores at the entry point of the bacterium. Spots in the area of the anus, vagina or throat often remain undiscovered because they are usually painless. These
symptoms disappear, even without treatment, after four to six
weeks. However, the disease and its transmissibility remain.
The second stage more or less immediately follows the first
and is characterised by varying types of mainly non-itching
skin rash, which often affects the palms of the hands and the
soles of the feet. Flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes,
hair loss and other symptoms may also occur. These symptoms likewise disappear on their own, without treatment.
Next is a period of several months to several years during
which the disease progresses without the appearance of
symptoms. During the first year of this stage, those affected
may show sporadic damage of the skin and mucous membranes and consequently are potentially still infectious.
In the long term, syphilis can lead to severe damage to the
heart, brain, bones, skin and other organs.
All stages can lead to damage of the nervous system, which
is referred to as neurosyphilis.
How is syphilis tested for?
Testing for syphilis involves analysis of a mucosal swab or a
blood test.
More information:
In case of ongoing sexual relationships, both partners need
to (a) be treated simultaneously and (b) adhere to the safer
sex rules until they are both cured. By doing so the partners will not repeatedly re-infect each other. Note: Given the
three-month incubation time, during which lab results may
show a false negative, co-treatment of the partner should be
considered in any case.
Non-treatment may lead to severe health problems later on.
For some conversation tips and information on further support options, see
How can the (re-)infection be prevented?
Sexual partners also need to be treated simultaneously to
avoid so-called “ping-pong” infections, where the partners
repeatedly re-infect each other.
Condoms and consistent adherence to the first two safer sex
rules reduce the risk of getting infected with syphilis.
1. No intercourse without a condom.
2. No sperm or blood in the mouth.
But transmission is nevertheless possible, which is why it’s
important to adhere to the third safer sex rule:
3. In case of itchiness, stinging or discharge, go and see a
Those who have five or more sexual partners per year should
be tested for sexually transmitted infections once a year.