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Facts about sexually transmitted diseases

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Syphilis is an STI that for some doesn’t have symptoms. If left untreated it can have serious consequences including heart failure, seizures and dementia. The NHS says: “The symptoms of syphilis are often mild and hard to notice.

“They tend to change over time and may come and go.”

However, some people will experience symptoms of syphilis.

These can include “patchy” hair loss on the head, beard and eyebrows.

The NHS adds: “It can take three weeks or more for the symptoms of syphilis to appear after you’re infected.

“Sometimes the symptoms can improve or go away completely, but if you have not been treated the infection is still in your body.

“This means you can still pass it on and you’re at risk of getting serious problems later on.”

Other symptoms of syphilis include:

  • Small sores (ulcers) on your penis, vagina, lo ovral and spotting or around your anus – these are usually painless and you may only have one of them
  • Sores in other areas, including in your mouth or on your lips, hands or bottom
  • White or grey warty growths most commonly on your penis, vagina or around your anus
  • A rash on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet that can sometimes spread all over your body – this is not usually itchy
  • White patches in your mouth
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, headaches and tiredness
  • Swollen glands.

Complications from the STI can be deadly but may not appear for many years after being infected with syphilis.

These can include:

  • Heart problems like angina, aortic aneurysm and heart failure
  • Brain problems like fits (seizures), memory problems, personality changes and dementia
  • Nerve problems like shooting pains, pins and needles, joint pain and gradual damage the joints
  • Problems with the skin, bones, testicles, liver and any other organ.

The most common way of getting syphilis is by having unprotected sex with someone who’s infected.

“You can get the infection if you come into contact with an ulcer on their penis, vagina, bottom (anus), or inside their mouth,” the NHS explains.

It’s also possible for syphilis to be passed on:

  • To an unborn baby during pregnancy
  • By injecting drugs with a needle that’s been used by an infected person
  • During a blood or organ transplant (this is rare).

If you believe you have syphilis it is best to attend a sexual health clinic to get tested.

Or you can order a self-test kit through the NHS to take at home.

Treatment for the infection will be a course of antibiotics.

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