Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) triggered by a type of bacteria called Treponema pallidum. The initial sign of syphilis is the appearance of a tiny, painless sore on the sexual organs, inside the mouth or rectum. This sore is known as chancre and people mostly fail to notice at the beginning. Diagnosing Syphilis can be a challenging task. One can have it without showing any symptoms for years. However, the earlier syphilis is detected, the better. If left untreated for long, Syphilis can cause great damage to vital organs, like the heart and brain. To know how is Syphilis Transmitted & What is its Treatment, go through the following piece of read.

How Is Syphilis Transmitted & What Is Its Treatment?

How is Syphilis Transmitted?

There are 4 stages of syphilis, namely the primary, secondary, latent and tertiary stages. Syphilis is most infectious in the first 2 stages. Syphilis is contagious and spreads through direct contact with syphilitic chancres. However, it cannot be transmitted by wearing someone else’s clothes, sharing a toilet with another person, or using other individual’s eating utensils. In the latent or hidden stage, syphilis remains active but is generally asymptomatic. In tertiary stage, syphilis becomes most destructive to health.

What are the Symptoms of Syphilis?

The onset of the primary stage of syphilis occurs around 3 to 4 weeks after an individual gets infected. This stage is characterised by the appearance of chancre on, or inside, different parts of the body like mouth, rectum or genitals. These sores remain for anywhere between 2 to 6 weeks. In the secondary stage, skin rashes can develop anywhere on the body, especially the palms and soles. Other symptoms of secondary syphilis are sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, headache, fever, joint pain, weight loss and hair loss. Secondary syphilis is frequently mistaken for other conditions. The syphilis symptoms fade away whether treated or not. However, without treatment, a person continues to have syphilis. The third stage of syphilis is the hidden or latent stage. The primary and secondary symptoms disappear and no noticeable symptoms are present at this stage. However, the bacteria still remain in the body. Latent syphilis can last for years before progressing to tertiary syphilis. The final stage of this infection is tertiary syphilis. Approximately 15 to 30% of people who fail to receive treatment for syphilis enter this stage. Tertiary syphilis can happen after many years of the initial infection and can be life-threatening. Some potential outcomes of tertiary syphilis are deafness, blindness, memory loss, mental problems, neurosyphilis, neurological disorders, heart diseases and destruction of bone and soft tissues.

When Should One Get Tested For Syphilis?

When experiencing any symptoms of Syphilis, one should immediately get themselves checked by a doctor for this illness. People who test positive for syphilis should inform all their recent sexual partners so that they can get tested and treated for syphilis as well. Pregnant women, sex workers, prisoners and men who have sex with other men should get tested for syphilis. People who have condom-less sex with multiple partners should get screened for syphilis too.

How is Syphilis Diagnosed?

The doctor can conduct a thorough physical examination and for blood tests to diagnose syphilis. If sores are present, a sample from a sore can also be tested to check for the presence of the syphilis bacteria. For individuals suspected of suffering from nervous system problems due to tertiary syphilis, a spinal tap or lumbar puncture may need to be carried out to diagnose syphilis. The doctor can order pregnant women to screen for syphilis to prevent the fetus from getting infected with congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis can lead to severe damage in a newborn and can also be fatal.

How is Syphilis Treated?

Primary and secondary syphilis can be treated easily with a penicillin injection. Penicillin is one of the most commonly used antibiotics and often proves effective in treating syphilis. For ones allergic to penicillin, antibiotic like ceftriaxone azithromycin and doxycycline can be used to treat this STI. For people with neurosyphilis, the daily doses of penicillin can be administered intravenously in a hospital. Unfortunately, the damage caused by late syphilis is irreversible. Even though the bacteria can be eliminated, but treatment mainly focuses on reducing the pain and discomfort. While under treatment, syphilis patients should avoid sexual contact until all the sores on their body get cured. They can resume sex only after their doctor considers it safe for them to engage in sexual activities. If the individual remains sexually active during the course of syphilis treatment, their partner should be treated as well. These individuals are advised to refrain from resuming sexual activity until them and their partners have completed treatment.

What Are The Complications Associated With Syphilis?

Mothers infected with syphilis face a greater risk of still birth, miscarriages, or premature births. They can also pass syphilis on to their fetus to cause congenital syphilis in the newborn. Also, people with syphilis have a significantly higher chance of contracting HIV.

How Can Syphilis Be Prevented?

Practicing safe sex is the most common way of preventing syphilis. By using condoms during any type of sexual contact, avoiding sharing sex toys, applying a dental dam during oral sex and, getting screened for STIs and discussing the results with their partner, one can effectively prevent contracting the syphilis infection. Since this infection can be transmitted through shared needles too, people should also avoid sharing needles when using injected drugs.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: June 29, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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