What Causes Syphilis?
Syphilis is caused by a bacterium that infects the blood.
It is transmitted through skin to skin contact with an infected area and is highly contagious when a sore or rash is present. It is also transmitted through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex.
What are Symptoms of Syphilis?
Not all people have symptoms but symptoms include hard, painless sores that appear 3 to 4 weeks after infection (but can take up to 3 months to appear). These sores usually appear on the genitals but can also be in the mouth or anus. If left untreated and the sore heals, syphilis can still be transmitted.
There are different stages of syphilis and secondary syphilis symptoms include a flat, red skin rash on the back, chest, genitals, hands or feet.
Testing & Treatment for Syphilis
Syphilis, if left untreated, can cause serious problems with several organs, mainly the brain and heart.
Having syphilis during a pregnancy may result in abortion, stillbirth, premature delivery or neonatal death.
Testing is through the examination and swab of the sore/ rash or a blood test to detect antibodies (usually present after 3 weeks but can take up to 3 months)
Syphilis is treated through antibiotics, usually penicillin (alternative treatments available if allergic to penicillin) and some people experience flu like symptoms for 24 hours after the treatment.
Increase in Transmission Rates
In Victoria, notifications of infectious syphilis have tripled since 2004. It is recommended that you specifically request a syphilis blood test at your next sexual health check up as symptoms may not be present.
Syphilis and HIV
Syphilis can do more damage in a shorter amount of time when someone is co-infected with HIV, symptoms may be more severe and progression more rapid. Treating syphilis may also take longer when someone has HIV.
A syphilis infection may also increase a person’s viral load as any STI increases the number of white blood cells in the infected mucous area which HIV can attach to.
For the HIV negative partner, having syphilis increases the risk of being infected with HV because syphilis sores create entry points for HIV.