Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a type of bacteria known as Treponema pallidum, generally transmitted through sexual contact.
Most people have never heard of syphilis, but it is a horrifying disease that can cause some serious health problems. If you are sexually active, you must learn about this disease and take steps to protect yourself from it.
In this blog post, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatment of syphilis. We will also provide information on how to protect yourself from this disease.
What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a type of bacteria known as Treponema pallidum that is generally transmitted through sexual contact. The infected person often doesn’t know that they have the disease and passes it on to their sexual partner.
Syphilis was formerly a significant public health hazard. It may induce serious long-term issues such as joint pain, brain damage, and blindness. Penicillin is the only effective treatment against bacterial infections.
In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 129,813 cases of syphilis in the United States.
Causes of syphilis
Syphilis is caused by an organism called treponema pallidum. The most commonly used method to spread syphilis in humans is by contacting the syphilis sore during sexual activities.
The main ways people get syphilis are from having vaginal sex and anal sex. It’s less common to get it from having oral sex, but it can happen. The bacteria can also enter your body by tiny wounds, cuts, or splinters on your skin or mucus.
More commonly, syphilis spreads by contacting a lesion or kissing directly. This can be transmitted to the child by a mother while they are pregnant and are a part of the pregnancy process.
Syphilis cannot be spread through the same bathing, showering, washing machine, or using doorknobs in the bathroom or hot bath.
Risk factors of syphilis
You have an increased risk of getting syphilis if you:
- Have unprotected sex
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have HIV infection
- Unsafe sexual practices
- Are a man who has sex with men
Symptoms of syphilis
Syphilis symptoms vary depending on the stage of the infection. Syphilis may go undetected for years if you are not aware of its presence. The first two stages of syphilis are the most contagious.
When syphilis is in the hidden, or latent, stage, it remains active but often produces symptoms. Tertiary syphilis has the worst impact on health.
People with primary syphilis develop one or more chancres sores on genitals, anus or rectum, or in or around the mouth. They are typically tiny painless ulcers.
The sore appears where the syphilis bacteria entered your body. While most individuals infected with syphilis only have one chancre, some people develop numerous of them.
After exposure to syphilis, the chancre appears about three weeks later. Because the chancre is generally painless and goes unnoticed and goes away on its own in two to six weeks.
Even though the chancre goes away after a few weeks, the syphilis infection is still in your body until you’re treated. If you have syphilis and don’t get treatment, you are contagious whether you notice a sore or not.
This phase starts 6 weeks to 6 months after you’ve been exposed and may last anything from 1 to 3 months. The palms and soles of the feet are often afflicted with a rosy “copper penny” rash, which is caused by secondary syphilis.
You might experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, tiredness, a sore throat, and muscle aches. These symptoms may appear and disappear for months.
Rashes on their face, hands, and stomach are not uncommon. They may also have rashes in other regions of their body. These might be wart-like sores in your mouth or genital area.
When you aren’t treated for syphilis, the infection moves from the secondary to the latent (latent) stage, when you don’t experience any symptoms.
The latent period might last for years. The disease may stay dormant or advance to the third (tertiary) stage, with no symptoms reappearing.
Late syphilis can develop any time from 1 to 30 years after someone is infected. Even someone who has not had any symptoms of primary or secondary syphilis can progress to late syphilis.
About 15% to 30% of people with untreated syphilis will develop complications known as tertiary syphilis after the initial infection. The final stage of the illness can affect the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.
These problems may occur many years after the original, untreated infection. You could lose your sight or hearing, develop dementia or erectile dysfunction, or become impotent. It can also cause death.
Syphilis may infect any part of the body and, at any time, spread and inflict damage to the brain and nervous system. You might get a migraine, dementia, or paralysis as a result of brain damage. In addition, you may have difficulty controlling your muscles.
Congenital syphilis (CS) happens when syphilis is passed to your baby during pregnancy. The impact of CS on your baby’s health depends on how long you’ve had syphilis and when you get treated for it.
The placenta or during delivery may infect babies born to pregnant women who have syphilis. The majority of infants with congenital syphilis show no symptoms, but some develop a mild rash on the palms of their hands and feet.
Syphilis can be diagnosed by:
* Blood tests: Antibodies, which the body generates to combat infection, may be detected in blood tests. The antibodies against syphilis-causing bacteria are long-lasting, so this test can be used to diagnose both recent and past infections.
* Cerebrospinal fluid (if you have neurosyphilis): This is the liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is necessary to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. Antibodies or the bacteria itself may be present in cerebrospinal fluid tests.
* Fluid from a chancre can be used to diagnose the disease.
If you think you might have syphilis, you and your sexual partners need to be tested as soon as possible. Syphilis is easy to treat in its early stages.
But if it’s not treated, it can cause serious health problems, including paralysis, blindness, and dementia.
Syphilis can be easily treated if detected and treated early on. Health care providers treat syphilis with antibiotics. Penicillin is the most effective option at all phases of your syphilis infection, an antibiotic medication that can kill the organism that causes syphilis.
If you’re allergic to penicillin, your doctor may prescribe a different antibiotic or suggest penicillin desensitization.
Even if you are treated for syphilis while you’re pregnant, your baby should be tested for congenital syphilis and treated with antibiotics if necessary.
Complications of syphilis
Syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cause serious health problems. They require immediate medical care from a healthcare provider. It can lead to several complications, including:
- Brain damage
- HIV infection
- Sexual dysfunction in men
- Pregnancy and childbirth complications like miscarriage, early delivery, and stillbirth
- Small bumps called gummas can develop on your skin, bones, or organs. They cause damage to the surrounding tissues.
Prevention of syphilis
There is no vaccine for syphilis. The best way to prevent syphilis is by using a condom during sex and getting tested for STDs regularly, especially if you have multiple partners, and avoiding recreational drugs.