Syphilis Infection — Threat Guide

At the end of the fifteenth century, syphilis arrived from the New World to the Old World with Columbus's expedition and quite quickly (by historical standards) became the leading cause of death in Europe. This disease has long stigmatized its victims — a woman with characteristic scars could be recognized as a sinner, dirty and wicked. 

The invention of antibiotics in the twentieth century changed everything, and today syphilis seems to us something distant. 

The relative ease of cure (when compared with the mortality in the past) became an evil mock: people began to take syphilis lightly. But this is a serious disease that can remain hidden for a long time and be transmitted to a permanent partner in a monogamous relationship.

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection. The causative agent of this disease is a bacterium from the Spirochetes family — treponema pallidum. The first sign of syphilis is a small, painless lump called a chancre that can appear on the genitals, anus, or mouth. The chancre is easy to overlook, especially small in size (from 2 millimeters). Larger formations, up to 1.5 centimeters, are less common.

It is not easy to diagnose syphilis - a sick person can live for many years without visible symptoms. However, early diagnosis is very important, as even in its asymptomatic form, the disease can cause serious damage to organs, including the heart and brain.

Sexual contact (including oral and anal sex) remains the main source of transmission for syphilis. Moreover, your loyalty to your partner does not protect and a condom - unfortunately, even in a stable relationship, betrayal is not excluded. It is also possible that a permanent partner can become infected after stopping the use of condoms due to a dormant infection - that is why it is so important to switch to other methods of contraception only after testing for intimate infections.

Syphilis can be transmitted by kissing, but this happens infrequently — there should be active ulcers in the mouth, and the exchange of saliva needs to be extremely vigorous.

There are Three Stages of the Infection

Primary Syphilis

The primary stage of syphilis occurs about three to four weeks after getting infected by the bacteria. It, as we already know, begins with the appearance of a hard chancre at the point of penetration of treponema into the body - a painless but very contagious formation in the form of an ulcer, sore, or erosion. 

The term for the appearance of the chancre is from 10 to 90 days, and the term of life is from 2 to 6 weeks. If a person is taking antibiotics to treat another condition, the incubation period for syphilis can last up to 6 months.

Secondary Syphilis

During the second stage of syphilis, skin rashes and sore throat may periodically take place. The rash is not itchy and is more common on the palms and feet (however, it can appear anywhere on the body). 

Other symptoms of secondary syphilis include.

  • Headaches.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Fatigue.
  • Elevated temperature.
  • Weight loss.
  • Hair loss.
  • Joint pain.

Symptoms disappear after some time, regardless of treatment, but without treatment, the disease will remain in the body. The symptoms of secondary syphilis are quite universal, so it is often taken for another disease.

Latent Syphilis

The third stage of syphilis is latent or concealed. Symptoms disappear, and the disease takes a wink before turning into tertiary syphilis, the most destructive stage. 

Tertiary Syphilis

According to statistics, from 15 to 30% of people who are not receiving treatment for syphilis will reach this stage. Tertiary syphilis can develop years or decades after the initial infection, leading to complications or even death. The potential outcomes of untreated infection may be different.

  • Blindness.
  • Deafness.
  • Mental diseases developed due to organic brain damage.
  • Memory loss.
  • Destruction of soft tissues and bones (the sunken nose that people usually remember when they mention syphilis).
  • Neurological disorders such as meningitis or blood stroke.
  • Heart diseases.

How is Syphilis Diagnosed?

For diagnosis, a medical examination, a blood test, and a chancre scraping, if any, are usually implemented.

During pregnancy, an analysis for syphilis is taken in any case since the disease, even in a latent form, can affect the fetus and lead to congenital syphilis. 

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Is Syphilis Treatable?

In the first two stages, managing syphilis is fairly easy. But the harm from the third stage can no longer be corrected, so usually, treatment is aimed at relieving pain and discomfort.

During treatment, it is imperative to avoid sexual intercourse until all ulcers have healed. In a couple, both partners must undergo the treatment without engaging in sexual intercourse until the end of the treatment. 

How to Prevent Syphilis?

The best way to prevent infection is to practice safe sex using condoms during any sexual contact. Also, the following may be helpful.

  • Using a latex wipe or condom during oral sex.
  • Avoiding sharing sex toys.
  • Regular screening for sexually transmitted infections.

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