CONDITIONS & TREATMENTS

What is it?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by the bacteria called ‘Treponemapallidum.’ It can infect both males and females.

How is it spread?

You can catch syphilis through oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a person who has syphilis; it is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. Syphilis is very contagious when the sore or rash is present.

Syphilis can also be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy. This can be very dangerous to the baby if the mother is not treated.

Using condoms during sex is greatly decreases your chances of catching syphilis.

Symptoms of Syphilis

Like many STI’s, not all people with syphilis have symptoms, especially in the early stages, so you may not even know you have it. You can get tested for syphilis with a blood test to confirm your status.

In Men

In the early stages you may develop a hard painless sore/ulcer on your genitals (penis). Because it is painless and may occur in hidden sites (e.g. mouth, inside vagina or anus), you may not notice it.

The sore usually occurs 3-4 weeks after infection and heals by itself within about 4 weeks. Even though the sore heals, if you have not had treatment, you still have the syphilis infection and can still pass it on to others.
An untreated syphilis infection can go on to cause;

  • A flat red skin rash across your entire body. (Back, chest, hands and feet)
  • Hair loss (hair falling out)
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever and swollen glands
  • Swollen lymph nodes (in groin and armpit)
  • General tiredness

In Women

In the early stages you may develop a hard painless sore/ulcer on your genitals (inside or around your vagina). Because it is painless and may occur in hidden sites (e.g. mouth, inside vagina or anus), you may not notice it.

The sore usually occurs 3-4 weeks after infection and heals by itself within about 4 weeks. Even though the sore heals, if you have not had treatment, you still have the syphilis infection and can still pass it on to others.
An untreated syphilis infection can go on to cause;

  • A flat red skin rash across your entire body. (Back, chest, hands and feet)
  • Hair loss (hair falling out)
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever and swollen glands
  • Swollen lymph nodes (in groin and armpit)
  • General tiredness

Risks

Though the above symptoms will disappear after several weeks, without proper treatment, a syphilis infection can go on to cause very serious problems with several vital organs in your body, mainly the brain and heart.

If left untreated serious long-term effects include;

  • Heart failure
  • Shooting pains
  • Dementia
  • Widespread ulcers.

Syphilis can also cause blindness, brain damage and heart disease.

How do I know if I am infected?

The only sure way to find out if you have syphilis is to have a medical check up. The nurse or doctor may take a swab (with a cotton bud) from the sore, if you have one and/or take a blood test.

Both tests are simple and free of charge through any government health centre or the AIDS task force of Fiji Clinic.

How is it treated?

Syphilis is effectively treated with antibiotics prescribed by a medical doctor after a thorough examination. It is extremely important to complete the full course of treatment as instructed. You will also need to have a repeat blood test to check that the treatment has worked.

Your sexual partner(s) will also need a check up and treatment. If your sexual partner has syphilis and has not had treatment, you can become re-infected and will need to repeat treatment, so best to avoid such a situation.

Your responsibilities

If you have syphilis it is your responsibility to let all your sexual partners from at least the past six months know so that they can be tested and treated if needed. You can help stop the spread of infection.

Sex should also be avoided after treatment until any rashes or sores have gone completely.

How do I protect myself from syphilis?

SAFE SEX!

  • Not having sex at all prevents you from coming into contact with infected bodily fluids, however,
  • Using a condom each and every time you have sex, from start to finish can greatly reduce your chances if infection, and that of many STI’s.
  • The condom only offers protection if it covers the infected area.
  • If you are sexually active, you should have regular medical check ups.

Using a condom

When using a condom, it is important to ensure you use it correctly for it to offer proper protection. You should;

  • Open the packet carefully so that you don’t tear the condom.
  • Pinch the tip of the condom before carefully rolling it down the entire shaft of the erect penis.
  • Do not use spit, Vaseline, baby oil or other oil-based lubricants.
  • Use water-based lubricants, such as KY or Wet Stuff. (Available in Pharmacies)
  • Withdraw the penis before the erection is lost, so that the condom does not fall off. Hold the base of the condom to prevent spills.
  • Store condoms in a cool, dry place and check the expiry date before using.
  • Condoms should only be used once. A new one should be used each time you have sex.

I want to know more

You can find out more from the following places;

NORTH
Northern Reproductive Health Clinic
‘Our Spot’ ( Northern Hub Center)
Ground floor
Ratu Raobe Building,
Nanuku street,
Labasa
P: 881 2525

WEST
Naviti Street Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic (Western Hub Centre)
Naviti Street,
Lautoka City
P: 664 0243

CENTRAL
Reproductive Health Clinic (Suva Hub)
Brown Street,
Suva
P: 331 9144

Any Government Health Centre. You can locate your nearest centre here