Syphilis

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Syphilis is caused by a bacteria-like spirochete Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. Syphilis can be transmitted between partners during sexual intercourse and from an infected pregnant woman across the placenta to a developing baby. Infectious syphilis is the most important stage of infection where transmission is most likely to occur. Syphilis is found more often in men who have sex with men and those who are HIV positive.

Symptoms

Infectious Syphilis is diagnosed by its differing stages of the infection. Initially the infection may present as genital or mouth sores which can be followed by a variety of symptoms including sore throat, non itchy skin rash, or swollen lymph glands. These symptoms can occur anytime in the first three months after you become infected.

Testing

It is important to test at the right time to be sure the result is accurate. If you test too early, syphilis may not be detected as there is a 1 month ‘window period’ of time during which the infection needs to develop sufficiently to show up on a test.

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Treatment and re-testing

Early stages of the infection can be treated with an antibiotic injection or tablets. It is very important if you are treated for syphilis that you attend for regular follow-up blood tests to make sure the treatment has worked properly.

It is possible to be re-infected and after you have had syphilis once, any further test will always show you have had the infection even if it has been fully treated. It's therefore important to know when you were treated if you have a reactive test.