Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that remains a significant concern amongst the gay community, and rates of infection among men who have sex with men continue to rise.
Syphilis can lead to damage to the brain, heart, and liver, and can increase your risk of catching HIV. But the good news is that, if caught early, it is easily treated.
If you’re a sexually active gay man, getting a syphilis check every three months as part of a regular sexual health check is a good idea.
How you get it:
Syphilis is mainly passed on during anal or oral sex. Around half of new cases amongst gay men are linked to sucking cock.
The most common sign of having syphilis is a sore or reddened patch on your cock, arse, or mouth. This can sometimes be painful, but not always.
You may also notice that you have swollen glands around your groin or in your neck. Check yourself regularly and, if you’re not circumcised (cut), check the inside of your foreskin as well.
A few weeks after patches and swelling emerge you may find a rash appears. This is commonly found on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet but can appear anywhere.
You may also experience flu-like symptoms, including mild fever, fatigue, aching joints, sore throat, and swollen lymph glands. It is also not uncommon to notice patchy hair loss. These symptoms may be mild and will disappear without treatment.
If you are worried about symptoms or if you think you have been at risk, you can use our service finder to find your local sexual health service, or try using our risk tool which will give you a step-by-step guide of what to do next. Alternatively, if you need to chat with someone, our live chat service is staffed Mon, Tues, Thurs, and Fri from 10 pm -4 pm.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual health services are operating differently. However, most sexual health clinics are still offering to test patients with symptoms. So if you are having symptoms you can find your service by contacting your local sexual health clinic or you can speak to one of our health improvement team via live chat
If you get a positive syphilis test result, don’t panic. Syphilis is easy to treat with antibiotics. This usually involves an antibiotic injection in your buttocks or if an injection cannot be given a course of antibiotic tablets can be given instead but will make the treatment take longer.
Once you’ve been treated it’s important to go back to the clinic for regular blood tests to make sure it has worked and that you have not been infected again.
During this period, it’s best to use a condom or avoid sex until you get the all-clear.
The best way to prevent you from becoming infected with syphilis is to use a condom when having sex. If you decide not to use a condom and have sex with different partners, then it is important that you have regular sexual health checks, ideally every three months.
Living with HIV?
People living with HIV are at a higher risk of catching syphilis. If you are HIV positive, then catching syphilis may increase your viral load, this will make it easier to pass HIV onto your sexual partners.
Both, SX and HIV Scotland have information on our websites for those living with HIV and their wellbeing.
Worried: If you are worried about your sexual health contact the SX team - we’re here to help with any questions and concerns you may have around the sex you have.
We can also give you information about what to do around testing during Covid-19.