Syphilis is a bacterial STBBI on the rise among men who have sex with men since the 2000s. It is transmitted through contact with lesions (typically during sex). Luckily, the access to antibiotic treatment is free to all in Quebec.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. The bacteria is transmitted through contact with a syphilis lesion. Generally, syphilis is spread during sex, but also during contact with a lesion (for example, skin-to-skin contact or wet kissing). Syphilis can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her baby, risking serious complications for the baby.
Syphilis is less widespread than chlamydia or gonorrhea. Currently, a resurgence of syphilis is being observed in Québec, particularly affecting men who have sex with men, a group who are especially at risk.
The following activities are associated with a higher risk of infection:
Syphilis is sometimes nicknamed “the great imitator” because its clinical presentation can often be confused with other diseases. Classically, untreated syphilis evolves through three main clinical stages: primary, secondary and tertiary.
The most frequently observed symptoms, by stage:
In the long term, the consequences of syphilis are serious and can be life-threatening.
It is important to note that a syphilis infection can increase your risk of being infected by or transmitting HIV (if you are HIV positive).
How to test: Testing is performed using a blood sample.
When to test: The minimum delay before detection is approximately 10 days. The window period ends 12 weeks after exposure.
Treatment consists of antibiotics, which are administered by injection in the majority of cases. Often, one dose is enough, but a longer treatment period is sometimes necessary. Treatment is free for those affected, as well as their partners, as part of a program for free medication to treat sexually transmitted infections. Response to treatment is evaluated with the help of medical follow-up and additional blood tests.
It is also recommended to inform and treat all sexual partners from the last 90 days preceding the diagnosis. Screening is also recommended for recent sexual partners of up to one year prior to diagnosis.
There is no vaccine to protect against syphilis. The best means of protection is to use condoms, regardless of the type of sex. Since it is possible to be infected and not have any symptoms, routine screening is recommended for anyone who is single and sexually active, especially when there have been new partners or unprotected sex.