Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can be treated and cured with antibiotics. If not treated, over time, syphilis can affect the brain, spinal cord and other organs. Having untreated syphilis also increases your risk of catching HIV infection.

In New Zealand, syphilis rates have been increasing, particularly in men who have sex with men (MSM). However, syphilis rates in heterosexual men and women have also been increasing.

Syphilis is usually caught through sexual contact with an infected person. However, syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to the baby during pregnancy.

Syphilis in pregnancy

If a pregnant woman has syphilis, the unborn baby may be infected. An infected foetus may die in the womb (stillbirth), shortly after birth, or the baby may be born early with or without congenital abnormalities such as blindness, deafness and meningitis caused by the infection. Untreated babies may become developmentally delayed, have seizures or die.

Important information

  • Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is easily treated with antibiotics.
  • It is most commonly diagnosed in men who have sex with men, but heterosexual infections are increasing.
  • Many people with syphilis don’t have symptoms.
  • You get syphilis by having sexual contact, including oral sex, with another person with syphilis.
  • Testing: You need a blood test, especially if you have a genital sore, a rash, or if you have had sexual contact with a person with syphilis.
  • Condoms help prevent syphilis.
  • You should avoid sex until any sores or rashes have completely gone.
  • You will need follow-up blood tests.

Taranaki syphilis outbreak

Outbreak update - May update

  • There has been a significant increase in the number of people diagnosed with syphilis in Taranaki since the start of 2017 – the number of cases is currently doubling every 12 months.
  • Five males and one female were reported with infectious syphilis in the first five months of 2019.
  • There were no reported cases in May 2019.
  • 10 out of the 23 cases since the start of 2017 had no symptoms and this included two women who were picked up while pregnant.


If diagnosed early, syphilis is easily treated and cured with antibiotics. Syphilis can go on to cause serious life-threatening conditions years later if left untreated, including damage to the brain, spinal cord and heart. Untreated syphilis also increases your risk of other sexually transmitted infections.

If you have questions about the diagnosis, treatment or the follow-up of contacts for syphilis please phone the Sexual Health Clinic at  0508 739 432.

Where to get tested?

Taranaki DHB Sexual Health Clinic
188 Powderham Street, New Plymouth
0508 SEX HEALTH (0508 739 432)
Monday: 6.00pm-8.00pm
Tuesday, Thursday: 9.00am-12.00pm
Friday: 9.00am-1.00pm

Or see your doctor (free sexual health for under 25 years of age)

Where to find more information

For more information on Syphilis please visit:
Ministry of Health
Health Navigator
Healthline – call 0800 611 116 for advice from trusted health professionals



Last updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2020

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