Syphilis is on the rise in Queensland, but it’s easily treated

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The curable bacterial infection syphilis can be life threatening if left untreated and new infections more than doubled in Queensland in the last five years.

Gay, bisexual men and other men who have sex with men represented 59% of all new syphilis infections in Queensland in the ten years from 2008 until 2018.

The biggest outbreaks within Queensland have been in southeast and far north regions.

How is syphilis transmitted?

Syphilis can be easily passed on during sex including anal sex (bottom or top) and oral sex (giving/getting head).

Skin-to-skin sexual contact may put you at risk.


Syphilis often has no symptoms. Small (usually painless) sores, which heal then disappear, can occur anywhere including the genitals and inside the mouth. You might not even notice them.

A red rash can occur anywhere on the body but usually on the hand palms or feet soles. The rash may disappear quickly too.

If you are sexually active you may have syphilis without knowing. Test every three months if you have been sexually active (including oral sex) or had sex without a condom.


If diagnosed early, syphilis is easily treatable. Treatment is usually a one-time injection of antibiotics.

You may require a course of treatment depending on the stage of infection. Being treated for syphilis doesn’t stop you from getting it again.

It is important to inform sexual partners to prevent reinfection and further transmission.

Syphilis increases your risk of HIV

Your risk of getting HIV increases when you or your partner have syphilis. Open syphilis sores can allow an entry point of HIV into your body, and syphilis inflammation will attract immune cells that are vulnerable to HIV infection.

Remember, the symptoms are not always noticeable.

Regardless of a syphilis infection, HIV cannot be passed on if people living with HIV are on HIV treatment with a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL).

Most people living with HIV know their status and are on HIV treatment and have a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL) and are therefore uninfectious to others. Experts estimate about 10% of people living with HIV don’t know their status and are not on HIV treatment.

Test every three months and use condoms as much as possible to ensure syphilis and other STIs are not passed on. You should also consider PrEP for the prevention of HIV.

Are you living with HIV?

Syphilis can progress much faster in people living with HIV. Symptoms can be worse, with more rapid effects on the brain, nervous system and heart.

People living with HIV on treatment with a sustained undetectable viral load (UVL) can pass on syphilis, but not HIV.

Test every three months and use condoms as much as possible to ensure other STIs are not passed on.

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