Syphilis Information

Hey guys! Did you know that there's a syphilis outbreak in Halifax among men?

The symptoms can be easy to miss: painless sores on the penis, in the mouth or rectum; painless rash on the hands, feet or whole body; swollen glands, fever, muscle aches or hair loss. While symptoms may disappear, it is important to get tested and seek treatment as the the bacteria stays in the body.

Treatment and testing are free. Testing and an antibiotic are available at the STD clinic at the Victoria General Hopsital.

You can also get tested and treated by visiting your family doctor, contacting the Halifax Sexual Health Centre or the prideHealth nurse.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. It passes from one person to the other during sexual contact, most commonly by giving or receiving anal, oral or vaginal sex. A pregnant woman can also pass it on to her unborn baby, which can cause birth defects and sometimes still birth.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of syphilis can show up anytime from 10 to 90 days after a person is infected. While in the body, the disease passes through many stages. At each of these stages there are different symptoms:

  • Primary: A sore or ulcer (usually painless) at the site of the infection - could be on the penis, scrotum, vulva, anus or inside the mouth or rectum.

  • Secondary: If syphilis is not treated right away, secondary syphilis occurs. The sore / ulcer heals and two to 12 weeks later flu-like symptoms (fever, body ache) and a highly infectious rash develops on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet or on the entire body. These symptoms will go away in time without treatment, but the syphilis bacteria will stay in the person’s body.

  • Tertiary: After a period of time (often years), tertiary syphilis develops. This is when the bacteria damages nerves, bones, joints, eyes and even the heart and brain of the infected person. This damage cannot be repaired. People with HIV are especially at risk for syphilis to progress quickly to this dangerous, permanently damaging state.

How do I know if I have syphilis?

A blood test is the only way you can know if you have syphilis. If you have any type of unusual growth, bump, wart or ulcer on or around your genital area or in your mouth, have it checked by your doctor or the STD Clinic at the Victoria General Hospital.

What is the treatment?

Treatment for syphilis is free. The usual treatment is a penicillin injection. You will need to have repeat blood tests to ensure that the infection is out of your system. Do not have sexual contact until your doctor tells you that the infection is gone. All partners of persons with syphilis should be treated.

If I have been successfully treated for syphilis, can I get it again?

Yes! Having syphilis once does not provide any immunity. Safer sex and regular testing are the best ways to stop the spread of syphilis.

Is syphilis a problem for people with HIV?

Syphilis increases your chance of becoming infected with HIV. People with HIV also have increased risk of syphilis complications involving the brain and nervous system.

How can I avoid getting syphilis?

Plan ahead. Protect yourself - use a condom correctly and consistently. Condoms give some protection, but may not cover sores at the base of the penis or on the outside of the vagina or on the rectum. Don’t have sexual contact if you or your partner has ulcers in the genital area or mouth.