Syphilis (Primary)
Primary syphilis chancre on penis

Syphilis is caused by bacteria and is contagious in the early stages of transmission. Without treatment, it can cause irreversible damage to the brain, nerves and body tissues.

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  • Commonly transmitted through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex
  • Skin to skin contact with the sore or rash
  • During pregnancy
  • Blood transfusion, but very rare

Signs and Symptoms

Many people do not recognise symptoms of early syphilis. Often symptoms are broad and may be dismissed as they are transient and not confined to the genital area. A latent stage follows the first and second stage where no symptoms are experienced. Tertiary syphilis occurs after 20 -30 years (if not detected or treated) and can cause bone, skin, neurological (brain) and cardiovascular (heart) complications that may be fatal.

First stage

  • A sore (chancre) appears in the mouth, anus or genital area, 3-4 weeks after initial transmission
  • It might be hidden from view (in the rectum or on the cervix) and is usually painless
  • The sore will disappear after a couple of weeks, but the illness is still in the body

Second stage

  • Skin rash occurs 4-10 weeks after first stage, all over the body, particularly the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet
  • Flu-like illness and enlarged lymph nodes
  • Loss of appetite/weight
  • Weakness and joint pain
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Wart like skin growths in skin folds
  • Mucous patches on the tongue


Syphilis is curable. A course of penicillin injections are administered depending on the stage of transmission.


  • Use condoms and dams for oral, anal and vaginal sex
  • Do not touch or have skin contact with any skin lesions