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Men's Health Line - Syphilis

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Introduction and Causes Symptoms and Effects
Prevention Treatment and Self-help

Introduction and Causes
Symptoms and Effects
Treatment and Self-help

What is syphilis?

It is a disease that is spread by having sex with an infected partner.

What causes it?

The bacterium called Treponema pallidum causes it.


According to the Department of Health statistics, in 2019, there were 73 cases of primary syphilis in men.

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What are the common symptoms?

There are three different stages of syphilis and symptoms are similar for men and women.

Primary stage (10-90 days after contact):

  • A painless sore (called a chancre) appears at the site of infection approximately 10-90 days after contact. The sore may appear on any part of the body, usually on the penis or vulva, but sometimes the sore will not be noticed, especially in women when the sore is inside the vagina.

Secondary stage (6-8 weeks after chancre):

  • During this time, a person may develop non-itchy rash on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the belly or the genitals. There may also be some flu-like symptoms. The symptoms in this stage will disappear in a few weeks even without treatment. However, this does not mean that the patient has recovered. In fact, the bacteria are still lurking inside the body.

Latent stage:

  • There may be no symptoms at all.

Tertiary stage (months to years):

  • The bacteria continue to invade the brain, the spinal cord and the heart, causing blindness, paralysis and even death.

Disregard of the disease stage, improperly treated pregnant woman can transmit the disease to the unborn baby, leading to serious consequences.

Health Alert

Syphilis is a serious disease. If not properly treated, it will lead to various complications and even death.



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How can I prevent it?

Practise safer sex behaviour can reduce the risk of infection:

  • Have sex with only one partner who is not infected and who is having sex only with you.
  • Use condom properly. However, condoms cannot provide complete protection if syphilis sores are on areas not covered by a condom.

How do I find out if I have syphilis?

You need to be examined by a doctor. The only way to know for sure is to have microscopic examination of the material from the sores or blood tests. The person(s) you have had sex with should also be tested for the disease.


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What is the treatment?

At any time during the first two stages, syphilis can be treated with a completed course of antibiotic. Afterwards you must have blood tests to ensure the treatment has worked. Do not have sex until two weeks after you and your partner have finished the treatment. The period of treatment for tertiary syphilis may be longer.

Your sexual partner(s) may also need treatment depending on the contact history and the stage of infection. Please discuss this issue with your doctor.

How can I help myself?

Syphilis is a serious disease that can affect your entire body. It must be thoroughly treated. Do not treat it yourself; it may harm you and your sexual partner.

If you have any suspicions, you should seek medical advice.

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Related Articles
  Safer Sex

Department of Health (Social Hygiene Service)
Hotline : 2150 7370

Hotlines (recorded message or counseling)
Hong Kong Family Planning Association Service Hotline
Phone : 2572 2222

Red Ribbon Centre Phone: 3143 7200
(Dr. SEX Hotline : 2337 2121)

How to Use Condom Properly