Do you think you have syphilis? Or are just curious about it? Here’s what you need to know about the STD.
Syphilis is a transmittable disease that is primarily spread through sexual activities. It is divided into the primary, secondary, latent and tertiary stages, different symptoms are associated with each stage. It is caused by the bacteria treponema pallidum and if left untreated can cause challenging health problems. This infection is more common amongst men, especially men who have sex with men.
Just like the fictitious Blue Waffles Disease, Syphilis can be gotten through direct contact with an infected person during oral, anal or vaginal sex. Sores can be observed around the vagina, rectum, anus, penis, in the mouth or on the lips. It could also be transmitted from an infected mother to the unborn baby.
Symptoms Of Syphilis
The first signs may take about 9 days to 3 weeks to appear and it is differentiated with its stages.
Primary stage: at the initial stage of syphilis, a painless sore known as chancre becomes visible. The sore develops at the spot of infection and there could be multiple sores. Any form of contact with sore will spread the infection. The chance might not be visible because it may be inside the mouth or vagina.
Secondary stage: if at the initial stage syphilis was left untreated, a secondary infection will develop. This usually occurs weeks after the primary stage and it is characterized by a rash which may appear on any part of the body and typically does not itch. The rash is mostly spotted on the palms and soles accompanied by fever, headaches, weight loss and tiredness. These symptoms will diminish after a few months but if the infection is left untreated, syphilis will become latent. This is when symptoms will no longer appear while you still remain infected.
Tertiary stage: this stage can develop 10 to 20 years after the initial infection. Most people who have not treated this infection develop severe symptoms such as:
- Damage to the blood vessels, liver, joints, bones and heart.
- Soft tissue swellings on any part of the body.
Syphilis could also lead to death at this stage.
Causes Of Syphilis
As stated earlier, syphilis is caused by the bacteria treponema pallidum and the mode of transmission is through contact with an infected sore during sexual activities. The bacteria enter the body through mucous membranes, minor cuts or a close contact such as kissing. Within a few hours, it enters the lymphatic and bloodstream to produce infection.
Since the bacteria cannot survive for a long time away from the body it cannot be transmitted through the use of other people’s toilets, utensils, towels, pools or clothing. It can, however, be transmitted through the sharing of needles.
It is a condition where the bacteria have extended to the nervous system, often related to the latent and tertiary stages of syphilis. It may appear gradually or remain asymptomatic for a very long time. The symptoms include;
The infection can transfer from a mother to the fetus via the placenta or during birth. Syphilis left untreated in pregnant women results in increased risk of miscarriage, the death of the fetus or the baby after birth. If they survive afterward, they are at the risks of seizures and slow development. It is essential that all pregnant women get tested for syphilis at their first prenatal visit. The antibiotic penicillin can be used to treat syphilis during pregnancy. Hence, it prevents the transmission to the baby.
Other symptoms prevalent in newborns include:
- Saddle nose whereby the bridge of the nose collapses.
- Rash on the genitals and blisters on the hands and feet.
Older infants and young children may experience:
- loss of hearing
- loss of vision
- swelling of the joints
- Abnormally shaped teeth.
A doctor or health worker will carry out a physical examination of the mouth, throat, and genitals to check for rashes or growths and a blood sample or a swab will be taken for analysis. If it appears that you have Neurosyphilis, a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid through a lumbar puncture will be taken.
It is advisable to get tested for other sexually transmitted infections especially chlamydia and HIV. The sores caused by syphilis on the body bleed easily which makes it prone to contracting HIV.
How To Prevent Syphilis
The preventive measures to decrease exposure to this infection are;
- abstinence from sex
- the use of condoms
- The use of sterile sex toys and not sharing them
- Practice monogamy with an uninfected partner
- Testing regularly for sexually transmitted infections
- The use of a plastic square or dental dam during oral sex
Note that, condoms only serve as protection against sores in the genitals and not those on the body.
Treatment Of Syphilis
Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics such as doxycycline or azithromycin. It can also be cured with the administration of penicillin at any stage. However, the damage already done to the organs cannot be reversible. The infection won’t reemerge after treatment except with further exposure to the bacteria.
If you are allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics will be prescribed but penicillin is the only recommended treatment for pregnant women with syphilis.
Sexual activities must be avoided until all treatment options have been completed and a blood test affirms that the infection has been cured. More blood tests are done at 6 months interval for two years to ensure the antibiotics worked.
It is essential to talk to your partner or partners about the infection so as to prevent further spread and enable them to get tested and treated. They have a right to know if they are infected or not, this might be difficult but it is the best thing to do.