Be Safe.



Also Known as:


Old Joe



Syph or Siff

Syphilis is still alive and kicking. It’s an infection caused by bacteria. The infection moves through stages and can cause serious short and long-term problems if left untreated.

How do I get it?

Having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with a person who already has syphilis.

How do I avoid it?

To avoid contracting syphilis, use condoms for oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Like any STI, avoid sexual contact if you or your partner(s) are showing any symptoms. It is very important that you speak with your doctor. Adhering to the following will definitely help:

  • Reduce the number of sex partners you have.
  • Engage in lower risk forms of sexual contact or sexual simulation such as mutual masturbation or sensual massage, or sex with a condom.
  • Don’t share sex toys, clean between use, and cover with a new condom before each use.

How do I know if I have it?

Many people infected with the syphilis bacteria experience no symptoms at all or don’t notice their symptoms.

Primary syphilis (symptoms usually occur 3 days to 3 months after exposure). People infected with syphilis may develop:

  • a small, hard lesion or sore that is usually painless. The sore might be on the genitals, in the mouth, the cervix or the rectum. This sore will heal on its own without treatment but the syphilis infection is not gone.

Secondary syphilis (symptoms usually occur 2 – 12 weeks after exposure or up to 6 months). Infected people may develop:

  • a rash on the stomach or torso, on the genitals, or on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
  • flu-like symptoms (sore muscles, feeling run down, fever and chills)
  • swollen lymph nodes,
  • patchy hair loss,
  • smooth growth that looks a bit like a genital warts can also appear (condyloma lata).
  • neurological symptoms can occur early for some people including headache, dizziness, or changes to hearing or vision.

Early latent stage (less than a year). It’s common for there to be no symptoms but symptoms (like the rash) may reappear.  For this reason syphilis infections of less than a year are considered infectious.

Late latent syphilis occurs when the infection has been present for longer than a year. There are no symptoms. The infection cannot be passed to others but there is a risk of it causing complications for the person infected.

Tertiary syphilis can occur with a variety of symptoms including serious complications affecting the brain and the large blood vessels that carry blood to the heart.


Pregnant women can pass the infection to their unborn children. Untreated syphilis may also cause problems such as early delivery or rupture of membranes, low birth weight or even a stillbirth. Syphilis can also cause birth defects that lead to long-term medical problems for your child, all of which can be prevented if mothers are treated early.

Is it curable?


How is it treated?

Syphilis is no match against antibiotics, and that’s what takes it out. Syphilis is usually treated with an injection. The number of injections you get depends on what stage of syphilis you have. Make sure you and your partner(s) are treated at the same time. You can become re-infected with syphilis through unprotected sex with a new partner or a partner who hasn’t been treated.

Your partner(s) needs to be tested and treated even if there are no symptoms. You can get re-infected if you have unprotected sex with your partner before he or she is treated.

What happens if I go untreated?

Here’s where syphilis gets really scary. If left untreated, syphilis may cause the following:

  • Blindness
  • Paralysis
  • Deafness
  • Brain disease
  • Heart disease
  • Mental health problems
  • Hair Loss

When is it okay to have sex again?

It will take one week for the antibiotics to get rid of the infection so don’t have sex without a condom for 7 days after you and your partner(s) have been treated. The best protection is not to have sex for at least 7 days after the injection(s). Some people who are allergic to the injection receive pills instead. In this case, don’t have any sex for 7 days after you completed your medication.

If you still have symptoms, don’t have any sexual contact.

This isn’t a one-trick-pony; you can always get syphilis again.

Other resources

What to expect when
getting tested

Get comfortable with the process.

  • What to bring
    to your
  • What will
    you be
  • What the

What to bring
to your

Your name and contact details and questions about your sexual history.

  • A form of ID (driver's license, passport)
  • Your health care card

What will
you be

Questions about your recent sexual history.

When you last had sex, whether it was unprotected, what kind of symptoms you have...

What the

A few different potential tests involve procedures that aren’t a huge deal.

Pelvic exams, swab tests, blood tests and or urine tests

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