Learn about syphilis, its symptoms, stages, diagnosis and treatment. Get the latest prevention and management advice.

About syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmissible infection (STI). It is caused by bacteria and can cause serious health problems if left untreated. However, it is easy to cure if found early.

In 2022, cases of infectious syphilis more than tripled from recorded rates in 2013. Syphilis is no longer limited to particular groups or regions, with increases seen across urban, regional and remote areas of Australia.

Syphilis has increased significantly for women of reproductive age. This is particularly concerning due to the heightened risk of congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis can lead to:

  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth
  • premature births
  • low birth weight
  • death of the baby shortly after birth.

Rates of syphilis in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote and very remote areas of Australia remain high. This reflects sustained transmission associated with the outbreak in:

  • Queensland
  • the Northern Territory
  • Western Australia
  • South Australia.

There also continues to be high rates of syphilis among men who have sex with men.

Prevention, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Some people with syphilis have no symptoms, so you may not know you have it unless you get tested. There are 4 stages of syphilis infection:

  • primary
  • secondary
  • latent
  • tertiary.

The signs and symptoms of syphilis depend on the stage of disease. 

For information about prevention, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, see healthdirect's syphilis page

Surveillance and reporting

Syphilis is a nationally notifiable disease

We monitor cases through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) and report data in our quarterly national syphilis monitoring reports.

For more on syphilis in Australia, you can search Communicable Diseases Intelligence.  

Case definitions

National guidelines

Related work

Our National strategies for bloodborne viruses and sexually transmissible infections address syphilis. Other work related to syphilis includes:

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