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The Facts on syphilis

  • Syphilis is a curable bacterial infection that can be life threatening if left untreated.
  • Syphilis is on the rise in Queensland amongst gay, bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.
  • New infections have more than doubled in the last 5 years.
  • In Queensland, men who have sex with men represented 59% of all new syphilis infections over the last decade (2008-2018).
  • The biggest outbreaks within Queensland have been in southeast and far north regions.


How is Syphilis transmitted?

  • Syphilis can be easily passed on during sex including anal sex (bottom or top) and oral sex (giving/getting head).
  • Skin-to-skin sexual contact may put you at risk

Will I know if I have Syphilis?

  • Syphilis often has no symptoms.
  • Small (usually painless) sores, which heal then disappear, can occur anywhere including the genitals and inside the mouth. They might not be noticed.
  • A red rash can occur anywhere on the body but usually on the hand palms or feet soles. The rash may disappear quickly too.
  • If you are sexually active you may have syphilis without knowing

Test every 3 months if you have:

  • Been sexually active (including oral sex).
  • Had sex without a condom.

How to treat syphilis?

  • If diagnosed early, syphilis is easily treatable.
  • Treatment is usually a one-time injection of antibiotics. Depending on the stage of infection a course of treatment may be required.
  • Being treated for syphilis doesn’t stop you from getting it again. It is important to inform sexual partners to prevent reinfection and further transmission (this can be done anonymously here).


Why Does Syphilis increase your risk of getting HIV?

  • Your risk of getting HIV increases when you or your partner have syphilis. Open syphilis sores can allow an entry point of HIV into your body, and syphilis inflammation will attract immune cells that are vulnerable to HIV infection. Remember, syphilis symptoms are not always noticeable.
  • Regardless of a syphilis infection, HIV cannot be passed on if people living with HIV are on HIV treatment with a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL).
  • Most people living with HIV know their status and are on HIV treatment and have a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL), and are therefore uninfectious to others.
  • It is estimated about 10% of people living with HIV don’t know their status and are not on HIV treatment.
  • Test every 3 months and use condoms as much as possible to ensure syphilis and other STIs are not passed on. PrEP should also be considered for the prevention of HIV.

Living with HIV?

  • Syphilis can progress much faster in people living with HIV. Symptoms can be worse, with more rapid affects on the brain, nervous system and heart.
  • People living with HIV on treatment with a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL) can pass on syphilis, but not HIV.
  • Test every 3 months and use condoms as much as possible to ensure syphilis and other STIs are not passed on.