Sexuality   ›   STBBIs  ›   Syphilis

Syphilis is an STBBI that can have serious complications. Learn what the symptoms are, how to get tested, and what to do if you are infected.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. This STBBI in on the rise in Canada. If left untreated, the infection can lead to very serious complications and even death.



Syphilis is transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person (with or without symptoms). It can be transmitted while engaging in:


  • Oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, anilingus)
  • Vaginal penetration (penis penetrating the vagina)
  • Anal penetration (penis penetrating the anus)
  • Sharing sex toys
  • Less frequently, masturbating or kissing an infected person


A mother can also pass the infection on to her baby during childbirth.


A person can become infected more than once in their lifetime.



Early symptoms may appear 3 to 90 days after contact with the infected person. Some people do not show any symptoms, do not know they have the infection, and can therefore pass it on without knowing. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, an infected person who has symptoms may see the following signs:


  • Non-painful sores on the penis, vulva, anus, cervix, or throat. A person does not always see or feel them. They may go away without treatment, but the person is still infected.
  • Rashes or flu-like symptoms
  • Swollen lymph nodes behind the ears, under the jaw, in the armpits, or along the groin.


All of these symptoms may go away on their own, but the infection is still present and can be transmitted. When in doubt, contact Info-Santé (811) or get tested.


Testing and treatment 🔍

Testing is done during a medical examination. It involves a swab of the infected area of the body, or a blood test.


Syphilis is treated with antibiotics prescribed by a physician. An infected person should not have sex during treatment and should only have sex after having tested negative for syphilis. Treatment for this infection requires long-term follow-up care from a physician.



To avoid contracting or transmitting syphilis, use a condom when engaging in oral sex, vaginal sex, or anal sex, and use a dental dam when engaging in cunnilingus or anilingus. Avoid sharing sex toys. Finally, ask your sexual partners if they have been tested recently.


If you have tested positive for syphilis, you should tell your partners so that they can get tested and avoid passing it on to other people. 


Sources: Public Health Agency of Canada; The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada; CATIE; Gouvernement du Québec

You'll also love this recent content