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Syphilis

 

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Syphilis: a sexually transmitted disease

 Syphilis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. It is usually spread by sexual contact or by kissing. Less frequently the bacterium is transmitted through transfusion of infected blood or from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

 After exposure and infection, the disease develops in three stages, called primary, secondary and tertiary (or late) syphilis. The primary stage of syphilis is characterized by the occurrence of a single, small skin sore, known as “chancre”, on the body’s area where the bacterium has entered (genitals, mouth or lips). The sore is not painful and usually heals without treatment, although the infection remains.

 Secondary syphilis begins two to ten weeks after the sore has appeared and is characterized by symptoms of non-itchy skin rashes on any part of the body, swollen lymph nodes, fever, soreness and fatigue. These symptoms may persist for a few weeks and then completely disappear or may recur repeatedly for about one year.

Syphilis progression

 If left untreated, syphilis progresses to a latent stage with no symptoms, and can remain in that stage lifelong. However, in some patients the latent stage is followed, many years later, by the tertiary stage of the disease, which is characterized by the involvement of the brain, nerves, eyes, as well as the cardio-circulatory and joint-muscle systems. Symptoms of late syphilis usually include muscle uncoordination, paralysis, gradual sight loss, dementia, blood vessel inflammation and valvular heart disease. In addition, one of the most worrying complications of syphilis is HIV infection, since it has been shown that people infected with syphilis bacterium are at a greatly increased risk of getting HIV.

 Fortunately syphilis is easy to cure, especially when it is detected and treated in its earlier stages. Penicillin (a bacteria-killing antibiotic) is the first choice. For the treatment* of primary and secondary syphilis, a single injection of penicillin is usually enough to stop the disease from progressing, while patients in the latent or tertiary stages usually require additional injections of penicillin to get rid of the disease. For people who are allergic to penicillin, other effective antibiotics are available.

 Just as any other sexually transmitted disease, syphilis is highly preventable by regularly using latex condoms. 



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*Always seek professional medical advise from a qualified doctor before undergoing any treatment.



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