South Africa observes cervical cancer awareness month annually in September to encourage women to do screening and prevent the cancer.

Did you know…

  • Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.
  • A large majority of cervical cancer (more than 95%) is due to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • People with chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, or herpes have a higher risk of also having an HPV infection and therefore developing cervical cancer.
  • The world Health Organisation (WHO) estimated in 2020, that 7.1 million adults aged 15–49 acquired syphilis globally.
  • Syphilis infections are on the increase globally.
  • Syphilis increases the risk of acquiring HIV infection approximately two-fold.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a bacterial infection (Treponema pallidum) that usually spreads by sexual contact.  This sexually transmitted infection (STI) often starts as a painless sore - typically on the genitals, rectum or mouth.  Syphilis spreads from person to person via skin or mucous membrane contact with these sores.  After the initial infection, the syphilis bacteria can remain inactive in the body for decades before becoming active again.

Antibiotics can cure early syphilis.  If syphilis is not treated, it can cause serious health problems, including neuralgic (brain and nerve) problems, eye problems, and even blindness.  In addition, syphilis is linked to an increased risk of transmission of HIV infection that causes cervical cancer.  Syphilis can also be passed from mothers to unborn children.

Am I at risk for syphilis?

Anyone who’s sexually active can get syphilis, but your risk is higher if you:

  • Have unprotected sex.
  • Have several partners.
  • Are a man who has sex with men (MSM).
  • Have HIV.
  • Had sex with someone who’s tested positive for syphilis.
  • You or your partner (partners) tested positive for another STI, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or herpes.

Testing for syphilis

People can be infected with syphilis and not know it.

  • You should get tested for syphilis if you have symptoms of syphilis or if your sexual partner was recently diagnosed with syphilis.
  • Asymptomatic patients should be screened for syphilis if they are at high risk for acquiring the disease or for transmitting the disease to others.
  • In light of the life-threatening effects syphilis can have on an unborn child, pregnant women should receive a syphilis screening test at their first prenatal visit. Some pregnant women need to receive syphilis testing again during the third trimester at 28 weeks and at delivery.

Rapid tests can provide results in minutes, facilitating immediate treatment initiation.