Syphilis is on the rise among gay men. Here’s what you need to know about it

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Yen Feng

Yen Feng

Yen is a freelance editor and yoga instructor at on Instagram/TikTok and @yenyogasg on Telegram.


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Considered one of the most common sexually transmitted disease, syphilis has slowly been on the rise among gay men in recent years.

In the United States, since 2015, the majority of primary and secondary syphilis cases were diagnosed in men who have sex with other men. The same trend is being observed in the England, where cases have gone up 40% among gay and bi men in the last five years.

Despite making a comeback globally, not many people today know what exactly to look out for. Here’s a breakdown of the STD and what you can do about it.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it is not treated. It’s divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), and there are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage.

How is it spread?

You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Typically, these sores can be found on or around the penis, anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth.

What does syphilis look like?

A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original site of infection, usually on or around the genitals. These sores are usually (but not always) firm, round, and painless.

Symptoms of secondary syphilis include skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. The signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis are usually mild. During the latent stage, there are no signs or symptoms, but in its tertiary stage, you may experience severe medical problems, which affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body.

How do I avoid getting infected?

The most obvious way is not to have any sex – but if you are sexually active, using condoms help. Condoms prevent transmission of syphilis by preventing contact with a sore. But as sores can also occur in areas not covered by a condom, you need to be extra careful as contact with these sores can still transmit syphilis.

How will I know if I have syphilis?

Go for a blood test. Most doctors will diagnose your condition by testing fluid from a sore.

Can syphilis be cured?

Yes! With the right antibiotics, you will be able to recover – though, any damage that the infection has already done may not be reversable.

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