Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is usually passed on through having sex with someone who is infected. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her unborn child. Syphilis is one of the less common sexually transmitted infections in the UK although rates have risen recently. It's more common among gay men.


Stage 1 A painless but highly infectious sore on the genitals or sometimes around the mouth. The sore lasts two to six weeks before disappearing.

Stage 2 Secondary symptoms, such as a skin rash and sore throat, then develop. These symptoms may disappear within a few weeks, after which you experience a latent (hidden) phase with no symptoms, which can last for years. After this, syphilis can progress to its third, most dangerous stage.

Stage 3 At this stage, it can cause serious damage to the body, with conditions such as stroke, paralysis, blindness or even death.

Tests and treatment

Syphilis can be detected through specific blood tests, which may need to be repeated over a period of time. If you think you might have syphillis we recommend that you get checked at your local sexual health service as soon as possible or request a free and confidential postal test kit for STIs here

Testing for syphillis is also offered to all pregnant women in the UK.

If diagnosed early, syphilis can be easily treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin injections. Treatment can stop the infection in the late stages of syphilis, but it cannot repair any damage that has already been caused.