Syphilis can usually be treated with a short course of antibiotics.

It's important to get it treated because it won't normally go away on its own and it can cause serious problems if left untreated.

Antibiotics for syphilis

A short course of antibiotics can usually cure syphilis. These are only available on prescription, so you'll need to be tested for syphilis to get them.

The type of treatment you need depends on how long you've had syphilis.

  • Syphilis that has lasted less than two years is usually treated with an injection of penicillin into your buttocks, or a 10-14 day course of antibiotic tablets if you can't have penicillin.
  • Syphilis that has lasted more than two years is usually treated with three penicillin injections into your buttocks given at weekly intervals, or a 28 day course of antibiotic tablets if you can't have penicillin.

More serious cases that affect the brain are usually treated with daily penicillin injections given into your buttocks or a vein for two weeks, or a 28 day course of antibiotic tablets if you can't have penicillin.

Follow-up blood tests will be recommended once treatment finishes to check that it has worked.

Side effects of treatment

You may experience some side effects shortly after treatment.

Around two in every five people experience short-lived flu-like symptoms, such as:

These symptoms usually only last 24 hours and can often be treated with paracetamol. Get advice from your doctor if they're severe or don't settle down.

There's also a risk of having an allergic reaction shortly after a penicillin injection. You'll be monitored after treatment to check for this and will be treated if it occurs.

Avoiding sex during treatment

Avoid any kind of sexual activity or close sexual contact with another person until at least two weeks after your treatment finishes.

This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as close skin contact.

If you have sex during treatment, you could become infected again or you could pass the infection on to someone else.

Notifying and treating sexual partners

Your current and previous sexual partners should be tested and treated for syphilis as well, as leaving the infection untreated can lead to serious problems.

How far back you need to go depends on how long you had syphilis before it was diagnosed and treated.

You can choose to either notify your previous sexual partners yourself, with support and advice from clinic staff, or the clinic can contact them by letter or phone and advise them to go for a check-up.

If the clinic contacts your previous sexual partners for you, your details will remain totally confidential and no information about you will be given out without your consent.

Treating syphilis during pregnancy

Pregnant women with syphilis can be safely treated with antibiotics.

The treatment you need depends on how long you've had syphilis and how far along in your pregnancy you are.

  • Pregnant women who've had syphilis for less than two years are usually treated with an injection of penicillin into the buttocks (if treated during the first or second trimester) or two injections given a week apart (if treated during the third trimester).
  • Pregnant women who've had syphilis for more than two years are usually treated with three penicillin injections into the buttocks given at weekly intervals.

A short course of antibiotic tablets may be needed if you can't have penicillin.

Page last reviewed: 23/03/2016
Next review due: 31/12/2018