Symptoms develop in three stages and can be difficult to recognise.

  • stage 1 – painless sores appear mainly on the genitals on average 2-3 weeks after contact with syphilis.
  • stage 2 – you might notice a rash and flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat and swollen glands.
  • stage 3 – symptoms can disappear but the infection can develop over many years. If untreated syphilis can cause serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, bones and nervous system. This is very rare in the UK.

Getting tested

If you think you may have syphilis, visit your local sexual health clinic or your GP as soon as possible.

The earlier syphilis is treated, the less chance there is of serious complications.

The doctor or nurse will examine your genitals and ask for a sample of your blood to test for syphilis antibodies.


Syphilis is treated with penicillin injections or other antibiotic tablets.

Treatment is very effective and can safely be given in pregnancy.


You will need to return for follow up tests to check the infection has gone.

Using a condom can help prevent a syphilis infection.

Using a dental dam (square of plastic) when your mouth makes contact with your partner’s vagina or anus, can also help reduce your risk of catching syphilis and any¬†other sexually transmitted infection (STI).