Syphilis is a bacterial infection and a sexually transmitted disease. It spreads through sexual activity including oral and anal sex. Prolonged kissing can also cause these bacteria to transmit between partners. Syphilis typically starts with a painless sore on your rectum, mouth, penis or vagina. Syphilis spreads by the skin or mucous membrane coming in contact with these sores. After the initial infection, the bacteria can lie dormant inside the body for over a decade before it starts to show symptoms. During this time, the infected individual can inadvertently pass on the infection to their partners.

If syphilis is not cured, it can badly affect the heart, brain and lungs and cause other detrimental problems to the health. This may include blindness and arthritis which stresses on the fact that syphilis should be treated as soon as it is identified.

This disease can occur at any age or phase of life. Pregnant women with the disease can spread it to their babies. This develops a congenital syphilis in the baby which can cause abnormalities or even death.

Syphilis does not spread by using toilet seats of the infected, or using door knobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bath tubs, shared clothing, or eating utensils. It is only transferred through any and all kinds of sexual activity.​​​

Symptoms of syphilis usually are seen in three phases. All symptoms of each phase can overlap but not necessarily occur in the same order.

Symptoms and indications of primary syphilis:

  • Small sore called a chancre

  • Chancre appears at the spot where the bacteria enter your body. It is a painless sore and will be hidden inside your vagina on under your testicles.

  • The chancre appears after 3 weeks of exposure and might heal itself in 6 weeks. Due to painless and concealed appearance, a chancre usually goes unnoticed.

Symptoms and indications of secondary syphilis:

  • After healing of the chancre, a rash may appear at same spot or anywhere on your body

  • The rash usually starts with your trunk but can move to any spot on the body including your palms and soles

  • These rashes are not itchy and maybe accompanied by warts in mouth, vagina, testicles or penis

  • Other symptoms include fever, muscle pain, swollen and sore throat, weight loss and recurring light cough.

These signs usually disappear within weeks or can continue on and off for a year

Symptoms of indications of tertiary syphilis:

  • This happens if syphilis goes untreated for a year

  • It involves severe complication for the body including damage to your brain, lungs, blood vessels, joints, bones, liver and eyes.

Symptoms and indications of congenital syphilis:

  • Will be transferred to you baby during pregnancy

  • Does not show any symptoms in the baby initially but a rash maybe visible on the palm, sole or any part of the body

  • Later, if untreated, it can cause deformities and abnormalities in the baby like deafness, blindness, and unstructured teeth and saddled nose.

Consult a doctor when you see any of the above symptoms and you are actively having sex. It is important to get yourself checked for these bacteria when you have conceived and are pregnant.  You can consult a gynaecologist at the Women's Health Care Service Line for expert advice. Our doctors at the Kidney and Bladder Service Line at the Aga Khan University Hospital can also help you with this. If you feel any discharge and rash from your baby, consult one of our doctors immediately.

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.​

Syphilis can be diagnosed by the following tests:

Blood tests: Syphilis can be easily diagnosed by a simple blood test. This will help you identify any antibodies in your blood.

Fluids from sores: In primary and secondary syphilis, your doctor will scrap a little fluid from the sore and get it tested from the lab.

If syphilis has been diagnosed within 6 months, a simple course of medications can help you get rid of the bacteria. In case the infection has been dormant in your body for a longer period of time before getting active, a higher dose of medications will be needed.

For pregnant ladies, our doctors will prescribe medicines as per her condition. Once your baby is born, your baby will also receive treatment.

It is important to get yourself tested after you’ve received the medication dose to check if the medicine is working. It is also pertinent that you abstain from any sexual contact unless you have been completely treated. Moreover, ask your partner to be tested and treated if you’ve been diagnosed with syphilis. You should also get yourself tested for HIV infection if your test results for syphilis are positive.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments' costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the 'Important Numbers' section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.