When syphilis (once known as 'the pox') was first recorded in Europe in 1495, it was said that 'its pustules often covered the body from the head to the knees, caused flesh to fall from people's faces, and led to death within a few months'. This language might sound darkly medieval, but syphilis is still a nasty and potentially fatal sexually transmitted bacterial infection. The infection is typically passed through sexual contact but can also be passed on by injecting drugs, blood transfusions or from an infected mother to her unborn child (known as congenital syphilis). In the UK, syphilis is thankfully fairly uncommon. But before you get complacent, in recent years the number of cases diagnosed in both men and women has increased dramatically. It generally starts with a painless ulcer on the genitals, and if left untreated it can spread over many years to involve other parts of the body, including the heart and brain.
How to Avoid
The most effective way to avoid the dramas and dangers of syphilis is to use a condom. It really is that simple. Avoid any unprotected sexual contact and you will dramatically reduce your risk of catching syphilis too.
In the early stages treatment is usually straightforward, but if you leave it then syphilis can become life threatening. Treatment usually involves either a single dose or a two-week course of antibiotics. As with all STIs, the best bet is prevention - you guessed it - by using a condom during any and all sexual contact.