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Syphilis: Care Instructions


Syphilis is an infection caused by bacteria. It's usually spread through sex. It's a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The first symptom is usually a painless, red sore on the genitals, rectal area, or mouth. This is called a chancre (say "SHANK-er"). Later symptoms include a rash, a fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Your hair may start to fall out. Or you may feel like you have influenza (flu).

Sometimes these symptoms go away on their own. But this doesn't mean that the infection is gone. If you don't treat syphilis with antibiotics, the infection can spread in your body. You can also spread it to others.

Antibiotics can cure syphilis and prevent more serious problems caused by it. You and your sex partner or partners need antibiotic treatment. This is to prevent passing the infection back and forth or to others.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get all the recommended shots. Your doctor probably gave you an antibiotic shot. If you've had syphilis for a while, you may need 2 more shots.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotic pills, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Don't have sexual contact with anyone while you're being treated. After treatment, wait at least 10 days and until all sores are healed before you have any sexual contact. Even if you use a condom, you and your partner or partners can still spread the infection.
  • Wash your hands if you touch an infected area. This helps prevent spreading the infection to other parts of your body or to other people.
  • Tell your sex partner or partners that you have syphilis. They'll need treatment even if they don't have symptoms.

How can you prevent it?

It's easier to prevent an STI than it is to treat one:

  • Limit your sex partners. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you.
  • Talk with your partner or partners about STIs before you have sex. Find out if they are at risk for an STI. Remember that it's possible to have an STI and not know it.
  • Wait to have sex with new partners until you've each been tested.
  • Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI.
  • Use a condom (a male or female condom) every time you have sex. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent STIs.
  • If you're pregnant, be extra careful. Some STIs can be passed to your baby during delivery.

Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV. Ask your doctor for more information.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.
  • Your symptoms continue or come back after treatment.
  • You develop new symptoms, such as a fever.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.