What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a widespread sexually transmitted disease and currently one of the most common. It is highly contagious and spread through oral and anal sex. Syphilis does not usually show any signs at the initial stage of the infection, but, it can still be transmitted.

In the past, syphilis was a major threat to public health as it was linked to long-term problems such as blindness, brain damage, and arthritis. There was no medical solution or found cure for syphilis until the late 1940s when antibiotics were developed.

Since 1940, there have been fluctuations in the number of new cases reported every year with the 1990’s having the highest number of new cases and the year 2000 having the lowest number.

What are the causes of syphilis?

Treponemapallidum is the causative bacteria for syphilis. The bacteria enter into the body through body openings such as cuts on the skin or through mucous membranes.

Syphilis is commonly contracted from contact with an infected toilet seat, doorknobs, swimming pools, hot tubs, bathtubs, and eating utensils. It can also be spread through sharing infected clothing.

What are the risk factors of syphilis?

You at a higher risk of contracting syphilis if you

  • Have unprotected sex
  • Have HIV
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Have multiple sex partners

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis has three stages, and each stage has its symptom.

  • Early or primary syphilis

In the early or primary stage of syphilis, there may be one or more sores called chancres. These sores are usually small and painless. The sores are present on the genitals, anus or rectum, in/around the mouth.

These symptoms show between 10 – 90 days (average of three weeks) after exposure to the bacteria. Even without treatment, the sores heal within six weeks. However, at this stage, it is important for you to get syphilis treatment at STD Check London to prevent the disease from developing into the next stage.

  • Secondary syphilis

The secondary stage of syphilis begins between 6 weeks – 6 months after exposure to the disease. It lasts for about 1 – 3 months. The symptoms of this stage include rosy ‘copper penny’ rash on the palms and soles. Rashes that look like those caused by other diseases may also be present in other parts of the body.

Some people may have moist wart-like lesions in their groin, white patches on the inside of their mouth, swollen lymph glands, fever, hair loss, and weight loss. These symptoms usually clear off without treatment.

  • Tertiary syphilis

If syphilis is left untreated in the primary and secondary stages, it develops into the tertiary stage, which is characterised by severe heart, brain, and nerve problems. It may also lead to paralysis, deafness, blindness, dementia or impotence.

Other types of syphilis include

  • Latent syphilis

At this stage, the infection is in the body but does not show any symptoms.

  • Congenital syphilis

This is when a pregnant woman spreads the infection to her baby. This is very harmful and may lead to the death of the baby.

  • Neurosyphilis

In this type of syphilis, the infection spread to the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include headache, dementia, numbness or paralysis. Muscle coordination may also be difficult.

What are the complications of syphilis?

Seeking a medical expert for immediate treatment is very important, but in cases where treatment is neglected, it could lead to several complications in the body such as

  • Nervous system damage

Syphilis can lead to headaches, meningitis, brain damage, paralysis, deafness, and blindness.

  • HIV

Having syphilis increases the chances of getting HIV

  • Small bumps

Syphilis can lead to the growth of bumps called gummas on the skin, bones and other organs. These bumps destroy the tissues around them.

  • Cardiovascular problems

Syphilis can cause damage to the heart valves, bulging of the blood vessels (aneurysms) or inflammation of the aorta (aortitis).

What is the effect of syphilis on pregnancy?

Women are advised to get tested for syphilis during their first prenatal visit. A pregnant woman who has had syphilis for a long time is at risk of having a stillbirth (birth of an infant who is dead before delivery) or giving birth to a baby who dies shortly after birth.

An infected baby may not have symptoms at birth, but the symptoms would eventually show within a few weeks if the disease is not treated. The symptoms of syphilis in a baby is usually serious and may cause delayed development, seizures, and possibly death.

How is syphilis diagnosed?

To diagnose syphilis, your doctor will carry out a physical exam and order the following tests.

  • Blood test

A quick test using your blood sample at your doctor’s office or a public health clinic can diagnose syphilis.

  • Darkfield microscopy

The bacteria that causes syphilis can be seen through a microscope in the fluid taken from your skin core or lymph node.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid tests

Your doctor will test the fluid from your spinal cord to check if you have neurosyphilis.

What is the treatment for syphilis?

Syphilis can be easily cured when it is diagnosed on time but, if it is untreated for an extended time, it can lead to permanent damage to the heart and brain even after the infection is treated.

If you have had syphilis for less than a year, you would need a dose of penicillin to treat the infection but, if you are allergic to penicillin, you might have to get another antibiotic like doxycycline.

For syphilis that has lasted more than a year, you may need more doses of the antibiotics. Pregnant women who are allergic to penicillin would have to undergo desensitisation to enable them to take the drug safely.

Until you are properly treated, it is best to avoid any form of sexual contact. Your partners should also get tested and treated if necessary.

Some people may have an immune system reaction called a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction a few hours after their first treatment, but, it subsides within 24 hours. This reaction is characterised by fever, chills, headache, stomach upset, rash, muscle pain, and joint pain. 

How is syphilis prevented?

You can be re-infected after treatment.To reduce your risk of getting infected,

  • Do not have intimate contact with someone infected.
  • If you are unsure of your partner’s status, use a condom whenever you want to have sex.

Get a syphilis test today at STD Check Clinic London. Call us now on 020 37457523 to book an appointment for your test.

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