Understanding Syphilis (Video)

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacterium Treponema pallidum also known as spirochete.

Transmission

The bacterium grows well in warm moist areas of the body and is mainly transmitted through sexual contact that involved oral sex, vaginal sex or anal sex. If left untreated the bacterium can also be transmitted from infected mother to unborn infant and cause serious damage. Syphilis can also increase the risk of getting infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

syphilis, chancre, benzathine penicillin, spirochete, treponema pallidum

Symptoms

There are four phases in which the disease progress and these include the primary phase, secondary phase, latent phase and tertiary phase. There are different symptoms associated in each phase and some people may not experience any symptoms.

Primary Phase

During this phase, about 3 weeks after initial infection a red painless sore known as chancre appear on the infected site. Chancre feels hard to touch and usually a single sore appear on infected site but sometime multiple sores may also appear.

In women, the chancre appears most commonly on the inner wall of the vagina or cervix and sometime on the labia. In men, the chancre appears mostly on the glans and sometime on the penile shaft or on the scrotum.

In both men and women, the chancre may also appear on the lips or tongue caused by transmission during oral stimulation. The chancre may also appear in the rectum and around the anus caused by transmission during anal intercourse.

Usually the chancre heals within 1 to 6 weeks without treatment. Even though the chancres have healed but the disease is still present in the body. If the infection is left untreated, the disease can progress to the secondary phase.

Secondary Phase

The secondary phase occurs 2 to 10 weeks after primary phase. Skin rash may appear anywhere on the body but most commonly appear on the palms and soles of the feet. The skin rash is usually painless and the symptoms may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, headache, fatigue, hair loss, weight loss, muscle aches, and joint pain. The symptoms usually disappear within few weeks without treatment and if left untreated, the disease can progress to latent phase.

Latent Phase

The latent phase can last for several years with no sign of symptoms but the infection is still present in the body. In the early latent phase (less than 2 years after secondary phase) you can still infect your sexual partner but in the late latent phase (more than 2 years after secondary phase) the chance of infecting your partner is very low or non-existent. Pregnant mother with the infection is capable of infecting the unborn infant in any of the four phases. When the infection is left untreated, the disease can progress to tertiary phase.

Tertiary Phase

Tertiary phase occurs decades after initial infection that can result in serious complication and may involved death. Serious complication may include heart failure, damage to central nervous system, paralysis, blindness, ruptured blood vessels, skin ulcers, liver damage, damage to the bones and joints.

Treatment

Proper diagnosis is required to detect the presence of syphilis and the only way to be certain is to get tested in health clinic by physician. Individuals who have syphilis for less than 1 year can be treated with a singular intramuscular injection of benzathine penicillin. Alternative drug such as doxycycline, erythromycin, or ceftriaxone can be used to treat those who are allergic to penicillin.

Individuals who have syphilis for more than 1 year can be treated with intramuscular injections of benzathine penicillin once a week for three consecutive weeks. Pregnant mother should be tested for syphilis and if the disease is detected, treatment can be safely administered during pregnancy without affecting the unborn infant.

Individuals with the infection should be treated completely before engaging in sexual activity. Individuals who are successfully treated with the disease should have blood test to be certain they are free from the bacterium. All the individuals’ sexual partners should also be notified, diagnosed and treated completely before engaging in sexual activity to prevent re-infection and to avoid infecting others unknowingly.

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