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Home  Health Information Gay Men Syphilis–Easy to Get, Easy to Treat, Easy to Get Again

Easy to Get

Syphilis is an infection caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. It is spread through contact with a syphilis sore (also called a “chancre”), by condomless anal, oral and front hole sex or even deep kissing. Syphilis cases have increased significantly in every major Canadian City among gay, bi and queer men in recent years.

Easy to Miss

Symptoms come in 4 stages:

  1. Primary Stage - A chancre appears on your cock, ass or mouth. The sore is painless, and can be hidden on the underside of your tongue or in your ass. You might not notice it.
  2. Secondary Stage - A body rash develops 2 - 12 weeks later. The rash is not usually itchy and can be so faint you don’t notice it. You may develop flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, fever and fatigue.
  3. Latent Stage - The sore and rash go away. There are no visible symptoms, but syphilis is still present.
  4. Tertiary Stage - The bacteria affects the brain, cognition, sensory organs, heart, and blood vessels. Complications, including brain damage and death may occur after many years if left untreated.

 Easy to Treat

Syphilis is easy to treat in its first 3 stages: a shot of penicillin into a large muscle, typically the butt cheeks. It can be fully cured.

It may take up to a week for your body to clear the infection once you’ve been treated, so it’s important to take a break from sex to avoid giving syphilis to others. If you have regular partners, make sure everyone gets treated, otherwise you can re-infect each other.

Easy to Get Again

Getting syphilis again once you’ve had it is common. Having syphilis once doesn’t give you any immunity towards getting it again. Notifying your sexual partners to get tested after you have been treated is important to avoid re-infection.

Using a condom will reduce your risk of getting syphilis again in the future. Getting tested regularly will make sure that if you do get it again, you can be treated as soon as possible.

Getting Tested

Syphilis is very common, so make syphilis testing a regular part of your health checkup. The test is confirmed with a blood test, which you can get at Hassle Free Clinic, the Works, or your primary health care provider. The chancre can be directly swabbed if it’s still active. Get tested…

  • Right away when you have symptoms
  • Once a year if you have a small number of sexual partners
  • Once every 3 months if you have many sexual partners

If you are diagnosed with syphilis, also get tested for HIV. Having syphilis may increase your chances of getting HIV. (cont'd below)

HIV Positive?

If your CD4 Count is under 350, you may be more susceptible to developing neurosyphilis. Neurosyphilis occurs in the fourth stage, when the bacteria affects the brain and central nervous system, and can develop in people who are not treated. It can take years to develop. There are 4 types of neurosyphilis, and there are many symptoms, including cognitive problems, changes in mental stability, disorientation, and blindness. Neurosyphilis can lead to treatment complications and requires more and longer doses of penicillin to treat. If you are receiving care and otherwise in good health, syphilis should not be difficult to treat.

Notify Your Partners, Talk to Your Doctor

If you’ve had syphilis in the past and test for it again, notify your health care provider of your past diagnosis. False-Positives are common: Once you’ve had syphilis, anti-bodies remain in your body. Most people test positive for syphilis once they’ve had it. Notify your partners right away if possible, especially regular partners.

You can send an anonymous email to your partners through the partner notification service called InSpot. Check them out at


Check out the link below for a list of sexual health clinics in Toronto where you can get tested and treated:


Programs and Services for Gay Men
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ACT is committed to the health and well-being of all gay men, regardless of their HIV status. We have a range of Group Programs for gay men that address issues related to depression, anxiety, substance use and body image, as well as programs for younger gay men that help them build resilience and community. We offer mental health counselling at ACT offices and in the community. Our staff are also trained to develop and deliver sexual health Outreach and Community Education programs.

ACT’s Strategic Direction
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As part of ACT’s Strategic Plan, Together Towards Zero, we are committed to leading in this area of healthcare because we have the experience, staff, and knowledge. Given our history and connection to the gay community in Toronto, we recognize the urgent need for leadership within this area, and are proud to be among those working towards building better supports for the different facets of our health.

Resources for Gay Men’s Health
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Each year, ACT has produces resources that address issues pertaining to gay men’s health. Here’s what we have produced lately:

One of ACT’s national partners has made these resources and others available to order. Find them at


* We have chosen to use the term “gay” recognizing that this term may not resonate with all gay/bi/queer/2 Spirit men (including queer trans men). Our objective is simplicity of language and we recognize that our services and service networks must be equally skilled at being relevant and accessible to all men who have sex with men, regardless of how they understand their sexuality in relation to their core identity.