What Are the Basics of Syphilis?

What is the definition of syphilis?

Syphilis is a contagious disease mainly spread by sexual contact. At the beginning, there can be painless sores. People who are infected tend to be unaware of them.

If a female patient is pregnant, she may spread the disease to her baby, causing abnormalities or death to the baby.

Doctors can cure early syphilis. However, if there is no treatment, the disease can do harm to the heart, brain and other organs and lead to death.

 

What are the stages of syphilis?

Syphilis has several stages, and each stage has different symptoms.

Stages of syphilis include:

  • Primary syphilis
  • Secondary syphilis
  • Latent syphilis
  • Tertiary/late syphilis

Symptoms of the first two stages can be very mild. Latent syphilis has no symptom.

 

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Symptoms of syphilis vary in different stages:

  • Primary syphilis
    A chancre occurs as the first sign. A chancre is a small sore that appears at the spot of infection. In most cases, there will only be one chancre; however, some people may develop several chancres.

  • Secondary syphilis
    Within the time when the chancre is healing (usually a few weeks), a rash may occur on the trunk. Then it can cover the whole body. Other signs include hair loss, a fever, muscle aches, sore throat, etc.
  • Latent syphilis
    This stage can last for several years, and there is no symptom.
  • Tertiary syphilis
    If there is no timely treatment, tertiary syphilis may happen. In this stage, the infection starts to damage your organs. Symptoms include numbness, muscle control problems, dementia and eye problems.

Besides, if a pregnant woman is infected, her baby can also be a victim. This is congenital syphilis. Often, there is no symptom; but some babies may have rashes on their palms or soles.

 

What are the causes of syphilis?

Treponema pallidum, a bacterium, is the cause of syphilis. During sexual activity, the contact with the sole of an infected person can transmit the bacterium. If there is a small cut in your skin, the bacterium can enter your body.

 

In what stages can syphilis be transmitted?

In primary and secondary stages, syphilis can be contagious, because the contact with the sole is the route of transmission.

However, sometimes early latent syphilis can also be contagious.

How can you catch syphilis?

The most common way that people get syphilis is sexual contact. This includes oral and anal sex.

Rarely, some close bodily contact can also transmit the infection, such as prolonged kissing.

If a pregnant woman is infected, she can transmit the disease to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth, and this is called congenital syphilis.

Following conditions are not the routes of transmission:

  • Toilet seats
  • Swimming pools
  • Bath tubs
  • Door knobs
  • Shared clothing
  • Eating utensils.

 

What tests can diagnose syphilis?

Your doctor will first give you a physical exam to check your genitals. Chancres can live on genitals.

You will also have a blood test. Through a blood test, the doctor can see whether there are antibodies in your body that are fighting infection.

When there may be complications in the nervous system, you will have a cerebral spinal fluid.

What are the treatments for syphilis?

At all stages, the effective treatment for syphilis is penicillin. It is a kind of antibiotic.

If you have syphilis for less than a year, a single injection of penicillin is enough. However, if it lasts for more than a year, you need more doses.

Pregnant women with syphilis also need penicillin to treat the disease.

 

How to prevent syphilis?

Here are some tips for syphilis prevention:

  • Avoid unprotected sex
    A latex condom can reduce the risk of contacting the soles.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners
  • Avoid abusing alcohol or recreational drugs
    These things can impair your judgement and then lead to unprotected sex contact.

 

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.