Sexual Health D&G
0345 702 3687 weekdays 8.30am - 4.30pm


What is it?

Syphilis Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. You can get it through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex, sharing sex toys and through skin contact with any sores or rashes in an infected person. Pregnant women with syphilis can also pass the infection to their unborn baby. It is more common in men who have sex with men.

What are the symptoms?

Some people do not notice any symptoms and the infection is only discovered when they have a blood test. Other people may develop one or more of the following:-

  • A painless sore or ulcer lasting 2 or 3 weeks in or near the genitals, mouth or anus – this occurs within the first three months of infection.  
  • A rash on the body which may involve the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
  • Swollen lymph glands e.g. in the groin or neck.

What is it caused by?

A bacterium called Treponema pallidum.

How do you get tested for syphilis?

From a blood test taken by your GP or Sexual Health clinic.

How is it treated?

From a blood test or a swab taken from a sore. These tests can be done by your GP or Sexual Health clinic. You should also be offered routine tests for other STI's including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV.

What can happen if it's not treated?

If syphilis is not treated there is a risk of damage to the nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and nerves) as well as the heart. These complications may take many years to develop and happen very rarely in this country due to effective treatment.

Syphilis in pregnancy

Syphilis infection in pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or infection in the baby called congenital syphilis. Early treatment in pregnancy can prevent these complications from arising.

Safer Sex

It is possible to catch syphilis again so it is important to ensure your partner has been tested (and treated if necessary) before you have sex with them again. Protect yourself with new partners by practising safer sex and ensure that both you and a new partner have a sexual health screen before any unprotected sex.

You cannot tell by looking at someone if they have a sexually transmitted infection, so if you are having sex (oral, anal or vaginal) the only way to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk is to practise safer sex.
This means:

  • Always using condoms or femidoms (female condom inserted within the vagina) for vaginal sex.
  • Always using condoms with water based lube for anal sex. Do not use condoms with spermicide if you are having anal sex.
  • Always using flavoured condoms or dental dams (a latex shield that covers the mouth) when having oral sex.
  • Trying non-penetrative sex like massage or mutual masturbation.
  • Not sharing sex toys. If you do share sex toys, wash them or cover them with a new condom between each person who uses them.

Condoms / Femidoms also protect you from other STIs including HIV. Always check the packaging for the British Standard kitemark or European product mark as well as the date of expiry.

Free condoms are available throughout Dumfries & Galloway.
See the clinic list

Testing and treatment is available from:

  • General Practitioners (your GP can test you for syphilis but treatment will be given by Sexual Health D and G)
  • Please do not come to our Sexual Health Clinic in Stranraer or Dumfries.
    If you wish to be seen or are seeking sexual health advice:
    Phone 03457023687
    Mon - Fri 9.00am - 4.00pm
Tel: 0345 702 3687 for other appointments