What is syphilis?

  • Caused by an organism called a Spirochete.
  • Transmitted through oral, anal and vaginal sexual intercourse.
  • It can also be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy.

How would you know you have syphilis?

Syphilis occurs in 4 different stages :

Stage 1

  • Painless red, wet sores (usually ulcers) appear on the :
    • Vagina.
    • Rectum.
    • Penis.
    • Mouth.
  • These sores are called primary chancre and will disappear after a few weeks.
  • Swollen lymph glands may also appear at the same time.
  • A person who has been exposed may or may not notice the chancre until 3 days to 3 months later.

Stage 2

  • If not treated rashes may appear on the trunk, both palms and soles.
  • Sores (ulcers) can appear on the :
    • Lips.
    • Mouth.
    • Throat.
    • Vagina.
    • Anus.
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever and body ache may also be present.
  • Stage 2 can last for 1 to 2 weeks and will disappear with or without treatment.


Rashes at the body


Stage 3

  • If not treated early, the person will have latent (hidden) syphilis which has no symptoms. This can last for many years.
  • However it can be detected by doing the appropriate blood tests.

Stage 4

  • If still not treated, they can develop tertiary syphilis.
  • The spirochetes have spread to the whole body and can affect the :
    • Brain.
    • Heart.
    • Spinal cord.
    • Bones.

Some of the symptoms are :

  • Difficulty in walking.
  • Numbness.
  • Gradual blindness.
  • Death

What are the complications of syphilis?

  • Syphilis is very dangerous if left untreated.
  • Brain damage and other serious health problems once developed are no longer treatable.
  • A pregnant woman can spread the infection to her newborn, causing major birth defects.

How is syphilis treated?

  • Your doctor can make a diagnosis by examination and blood test.
  • Early stages of syphilis can be easily treated with antibiotics.
  • Patients with chronic disease need longer periods of treatment.
  • Unfortunately, damage to the body from late stages of syphilis cannot be treated.

How is it prevented?

  • The best way is to avoid sex.

  • If you are below 16 years old, having sex is illegal unless you are married.
    • The Malaysian law states that consensual sex with girls below 16 years old will lead to the male being charged with statutory rape.
  • If you are sexually active, practice safe sex.
    • Be loyal to one partner. Avoid multiple partners.
    • Use condoms. However condoms are not 100% effective in preventing syphilis but are able to reduce the risk of transmission.
    • Avoid taking alcohol or drugs that can impair your judgement.
Last Reviewed : 28 August 2020
Writer : Dr. Hargeet Kaur a/p Basant Singh
Reviewer : Dr. Nazhatussima bt. Suhaili