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Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is easily spread through oral or anal sex.

Syphilis is common among gay and bi-sexual men.

Someone who has syphilis will get a sore at the place where they have been infected. This could be on the penis, where they might see it, or around or inside the anus, where they won’t see it. Men who also have sex with women can get infected if the woman has a syphilis sore inside her vagina. The syphilis sore is not painful and will go away by itself, but the person is still infected with syphilis.

If you get syphilis it is easier for you to get infected with HIV. If you are already HIV positive getting syphilis can make your HIV worse.

Many men have syphilis without knowing they have it, and can spread it to others if they don’t use a condom during sex. Never do oral sex on a penis that has a sore on it; you can also get syphilis in your throat. Always use a condom during anal sex.

The Signs

The signs of syphilis can be divided into four stages:

  • STAGE 1: The syphilis sore develops between one and two weeks after the germ has entered your body. The sore will heal by itself but you are still infected.
  • STAGE 2: Between two and six months after the sore has healed you might feel sick (as if you have flu), or develop a rash (spots on your skin) on your upper body and maybe on the palms of your hands.
  • STAGE 3: You will still have syphilis (unless you were treated) but now there will be no signs of the infection. However you can still infect your sexual partners.
  • STAGE 4: You can have syphilis for many years without knowing it. Now the germ will attack your nerves and can make you blind, deaf or cause brain damage. It can also attack your heart.

Syphilis can be a dangerous infection – get tested for it so that you can be treated.

What Can You Do?

  • Avoid getting syphilis by always using a condom when you have anal sex and never put a penis that has a sore into your mouth.
  • If you only have sex with one partner and you don’t use condoms you should both be checked for syphilis so that you don’t infect each other.
  • Any public clinic can do a simple blood test to check for syphilis. At some clinics you will get the results within 15 minutes.
  • If you are having sex with more than one partner you should be checked for syphilis every six months.
  • If you are HIV positive you should also be checked for syphilis – having this infection is bad for your immune system.
  • If syphilis is found during Stage 1 or Stage 2 it is easy to treat at a public clinic. It can be difficult to treat syphilis if it is in Stage 3 or Stage 4 so rather don’t wait – get checked for syphilis as soon as possible.
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