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What is Syphilis?

*BEST ADVICE* What is Syphilis? - Medconsult Clinic 2022
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Syphilis is a bacterial infection which often does not display symptoms for many years at which point it starts developing into its more mature stages of the infection and cause more major damage. At this point it starts affecting multiple organs. It is a challenge to diagnose without testing as in its early stages it may show no symptoms until it develops after many years when then consequences become much more severe.

*BEST ADVICE* What is Syphilis? - Medconsult Clinic 2022

How is it spread?

Syphilis is spread through contact with the chancres sores that come with the bacterial infection. These sores may appear on the genitals, anus or mouth and can be contacted causing transmission during oral, anal, vaginal or even genital contact. In a similar way to chlamydia and gonorrhoea, syphilis can be passed from a mother to a newborn during delivery if the infection is active.

Certain demographics are more at risk of syphilis and this includes people who have HIV/AIDs and male to male intercourse. 

How do I know if I have it?

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As mentioned, Syphilis may or may not show symptoms until its more mature stages by which point major impacts may already be happening to the body. Syphilis develops in stages from primary, secondary, latent and finally tertiary with each stage having its own symptoms. By its latent stage, despite being a mature stage of the infection, it is common for symptoms to dissipate and hide themselves.


The primary stage occurs anywhere from 4 weeks to 90 days after contact, and symptoms include a small, often painless, sore known as a chancre which can appear in any of the locations that can harbour the bacteria. The chancre is highly infectious if contacted and spreads the infection easily. It can stay for 2-6 weeks and then subsides so can easily be missed, especially given the fact they are often painless.


The secondary stage is often characterised by a skin rash. This rash can be anywhere on the body but most commonly on the palms or bottom of the feet. As it appears as an innocent rash, the symptoms can often be neglected and dismissed as psoriasis or other skin rashes. Aside from skin rash the symptoms may also take the form of headaches, fevers, swollen lymph nodes and aching joints.


This is the third stage and occurs after the symptoms of the primary and secondary stage have subsided and are hidden. However, the infection still remains and develops within the body and so is an even greater risk as it may last several years in this stage before the tertiary stage.


This stage can be life threatening. If syphilis is allowed to reach its tertiary stage without being tested for an detected, it can have major impacts on the body and its organs. This includes damage of the bone and tissues, infection of the brain and spinal chord, mental health concerns, loss of hearing and sight, strokes, meningitis and heart diseases.

What is the test and treatment like?

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The test will most likely be a blood test but if a sore is present this may also be swabbed for testing however it is not always necessary, and a blood test will suffice. It is important to test for syphilis to try to detect and treat it as early as possible but hopefully before the latent stage sets in. The damage from later stage syphilis cannot be reversed. For primary and secondary syphilis the treatment plan is a penicillin injection. If allergic to penicillin a different antibiotic injection will be used (doxycycline or ceftriaxone). 

What if I leave it untreated?

As outlined in this article, syphilis can cause some very severe problems if allowed to develop into the latent and tertiary stage. This is very unfortunate as it can last years as an insidious infection in its primary and secondary stages which is why it is important to test for if you are sexually active. Syphilis screenings are very easy and often included alongside screenings for chlamydia and gonorrhoea using the same blood sample.

Come get tested

If you are reading this and you feel you have some of the symptons, or you just feel you need to make sure after an unprotected encounter. Come to MedConsult Clinic and get a test. It’s quick, easy, painless, Confidential and will give you the peace of mind you need. We can provide a whole host of Sexual Health test screenings and you can see the full list here.

MedConsult Clinic

Dr Donna Robinson founded MedConsult Clinic in 2003 to offer high-quality, affordable medical care in Bangkok. With over 35 years of experience, she oversees a team of medical practitioners and nurses who provide healthcare services in English, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Burmese, and other languages. Dr Donna herself is fully bilingual in English and Thai and holds UK and Thai medical licenses.

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