Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria. The most common way to get infected is by having sex without a condom. You can also be infected by oral sex. Syphilis is treatable.

Syphilis is divided into early syphilis and then syphilis. In early syphilis, the infection can be transmitted to others through sexual contact. In the later stage, you do not transmit through sex but the infection can be passed on through the blood, for example the baby can be infected if you are pregnant.

Symptoms of syphilis

Some get symptoms, others do not. The first symptom of early syphilis is usually that you get one or more ulcers where you have become infected. Common places to get wounds are:

  • on the genitals
  • around the rectum opening
  • at the mouth.

The wounds usually come about three weeks after you are infected, but it can vary from ten days to three months. The wounds are usually between one and two centimeters in size and usually do not hurt. Sometimes the wounds can be so small that you do not notice them. It is common for one of the lymph nodes in the groin to swell if you have ulcers.

The wounds heal on their own, after about three to eight weeks. It does not mean that you have recovered. You are still infected and it is important that you receive treatment.

Syphilis can spread to the blood

The infection spreads into the blood if you are not treated. It usually happens four to eight weeks after you have received the first wound. When syphilis spreads to the blood, most of the body’s organs can become infected. Therefore, the disease can manifest itself in many different ways.

The most common symptom is that you get a rash. The rash may look different. They can be spread on the body and resemble various skin diseases. The rash can sometimes itch. You can also get reddish-brown spots in palms and soles of your feet. Occasionally you may develop red spots on the mucous membranes of the abdomen, mouth or rectum.

The rash heals completely if you receive treatment. The rash can last for between two and ten weeks and come back several times during the first two years if you do not receive treatment.

It is common for you to have one or more of the following symptoms of syphilis if the infection has spread to the bloodstream:

  • You get a fever , but usually not so high.
  • You feel tired.
  • You have a headache.

After a while, the symptoms go away but you can still infect others for one to two years if you do not receive treatment.

Late syphilis may remain in the body

Most become symptom-free without treatment about a year after they get the disease, but some still have the infection in the body. It is then called syphilis. Late syphilis can lead to severe symptoms of the heart and nervous system several years later. Sometimes only after 10-20 years.

When and where should I seek care?

You are required by the Infection Protection Act to go and test you if you think you have syphilis. The faster you receive treatment, the less likely you are to have sequelae, and also to transmit syphilis to someone else.

Contact an STI reception or STD reception. The receptions can have different names in different places in the country. Sometimes it is called sex and cohabitation, Sesame reception, sex reception or venereal reception. 

If it is far to the nearest STI or STD reception, contact a health care provider.

You can usually contact a youth reception if you are under 25. It varies which age applies depending on where you live.

How can I reduce the risk of syphilis?

The best way to protect against syphilis is to use a condom if you have slit or anal intercourse. It is important that the condom is intact and that it is used throughout the intercourse. Do you have oral sex protects condom and lick of mouth?

How does syphilis get infected?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease and is caused by a bacterium. It is especially contagious because the mucous membranes of the genitals, rectum or mouth come into contact with each other. Syphilis infects most easily if you already have ulcers on your body.

The most common way to get infected is to have vaginal or anal sex without a condom. You can also be infected with oral sex.

It is uncommon but the disease can also transmit through kisses if you have syphilis ulcers in your mouth.

Syphilis can also be infected by blood transfusions and by syringes with unclean needles. Blood donors many countries are always examined for syphilis infection.

Syphilis does not infect by taking or using the same towel or toilet as someone with syphilis.


A doctor will test the ulcer if you have a suspected syphilis wound. The sample is taken from the wound surface with a cotton swab. It does not hurt.

The sample is always sent to a laboratory for analysis. Then it can take one to two weeks before you get a response. Sometimes the doctor can examine the sample directly in a microscope. Then you usually get the answer at once.

You may have a blood test if you have no ulcer but the doctor still suspects you have syphilis. The blood test can sometimes show if you have syphilis even if you have no symptoms. You will receive answers to the blood test within a week.

Both examination and treatment of syphilis is free.

Diseases Act

It is important to find and examine anyone who may have syphilis. You must therefore submit the information you have about persons with whom you have had sexual contact. They are then contacted by the reception so that they also come and test themselves.

You can choose whether you first want to tell the person or people you have had sex with before the reception hears. If you do not want it, you can let the reception be the one who handles the contact completely. Those who need to come and test themselves are contacted by letter or telephone call. Those with whom you have had sexual contact will never find out who has provided the information.

Anyone who is contacted is informed that they must go to one of the receptions available for sampling and testing.

You should understand the information

In order for you to be involved in your care and treatment, it is important that you  understand the information you receive from the healthcare personnel. Ask questions if you don’t understand.

Treatment of syphilis

You may be contagious already for just over a week after the treatment is finished.

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics

The treatment means that you get syringes with antibiotics . Depending on how long you have had syphilis, you will receive syringes once a week for one to three weeks. You get a syringe in each ham at every opportunity. About a week after the last syringes, you are no longer infected.

Check after treatment

After treatment with early syphilis, you may have regular blood tests until the samples show that the infection is gone. You can usually go on post-checks after three, six and twelve months, but sometimes you may need to go on checks for a longer period.

You should not have sex until you are completely healthy

You shouldn’t have sex until you know you’re infectious. You are obliged to inform the person you have sex with that you have syphilis if you have sex before you are infectious. You must also use protection such as a condom or lick.

Syphilis and pregnancy

It is especially important that you test yourself if you are pregnant and suspect you may be infected with syphilis. The risk is very high that the fetus will be infected if you have syphilis in the early stages. The fetus can be infected throughout pregnancy, but the risk is greater after the first three months of pregnancy. If the fetus gets syphilis, it can lead to miscarriage or the baby is born with syphilis.

Ehtisham Nadeem

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