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Syphilis: Signs, Stages, Causes, Prevention,Treatment

Overview

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is spread sexually. While it is treatable in its early stages, it can progress to disability, neurological diseases, and even death if left untreated.

Syphilis is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum (T. pallidum). The disease progresses through four stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 64% of syphilis cases in 2018 involved males who had sex with men. However, the number of instances is increasing among heterosexual men and women as well.

Antibiotics can be used to treat syphilis, particularly in the early stages. However, it does not resolve on its own.

We will discuss the various stages of syphilis, whether it is curable, and how to diagnose and treat it in this post.

What Exactly Is Syphilis?

Syphilis meaning can be defined as an infection caused by the bacteria T. pallidum. These germs can be transmitted between individuals via direct touch with a syphilitic sore.

These sores may occur on the vaginal, anus, rectum, lips, mouth, skin or mucous membranes.

Syphilis is more likely to spread during sexual activity, whether oral, anal, or vaginal. Individuals rarely spread the bacterium via kissing.

A painless sore on the genitals, rectum, mouth, or another area of the skin is the first indication. Some people are unaware of the sore since it is not painful.

These lesions will eventually heal on their own. However, if an individual is not treated, the germs persist in the body. They have the potential to remain dormant in the body for decades. Prior to reactivating and destroying organs, including the brain

Symptoms

Syphilis is classified by doctors as primary, secondary, latent, or tertiary. Each stage is defined by a unique set of symptoms.

The condition is potentially infectious during the primary and secondary stages, as well as, on occasion, the early latent phase. Although tertiary syphilis is not communicable, it is the most severe form.

Primary syphilis symptoms

Primary syphilis symptoms include the presence of one or more painless, firm, and spherical syphilitic sores, or chancres. These symptoms manifest between ten days to three months after the bacteria enter the body.

Chances resolve in approximately 2–6 weeks. However, if the sickness is not treated, it may persist in the body and develop to the next phase.

Subsequent Symptoms

Symptoms of secondary syphilis include the following:

Hair loss man
  • oral, anal, and vaginal warts-like sores
  • non itchy, rough, red or reddish-brown rash that begins on the trunk and spreads over the body, including the palms and soles
  • pains in the muscles fever
  • a swollen lymph node a painful throat
  • hair loss in patches
  • headaches
  • tiredness due to unexplained weight loss
Tired

These symptoms may subside within a few weeks of their onset. They may also reoccur repeatedly over a longer length of time.

Headache man

Secondary syphilis symptoms

If left untreated, it can proceed to the latent and tertiary stages.

Several years may pass during the latent phase. During this time period, the body will continue to host the disease in the absence of symptoms.

However, the T. pallidum germs persist dormant in the body, and recurrence is always possible. Even if symptoms do not manifest, doctors nevertheless recommend treating syphilis at this point.

Tertiary syphilis may develop following the latent phase

Syphilis tertiary, or late syphilis

Tertiary syphilis can develop 10–30 years after the initial infection, usually following a period of latent infection during which there are no symptoms.

Syphilis causes harm to the following organs and systems during this stage:

  • cardiovascular system blood vessels liver bones and joints
  • Gummas can also form. These are soft tissue swollen areas of the body that can occur anywhere.

Due to the organ damage caused by tertiary syphilis, it is frequently fatal. Thus, it is vital to treat syphilis before it progresses to this stage.

Note: It is important to talk to your doctor or other qualified clinicians for multivitamin pills dosages and intake frequencies.

Neurosyphilis

Neurosyphilis is a disease that occurs when the T. pallidum bacteria infect the neurological system. It is frequently associated with latent and tertiary syphilis. It can, however, occur at any time following the initial stage.

For an extended period of time, a person with neurosyphilis may be asymptomatic. Alternatively, symptoms may manifest over time.

Symptoms include the following:

  • atypical dementia or changed mental status 
  • gait tingling in the extremities 
  • concentration difficulties 
  • confusion 
  • headaches or seizures
  • eyesight difficulties or vision loss insufficiency

Congenital syphilis

Vision loss

Congenital syphilis is extremely serious and frequently fatal. The bacteria T. pallidum can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus via the placenta and during childbirth.

Without screening and syphilis treatment, around 70% of women with syphilis will have a negative pregnancy outcome.

Early fetal or neonatal death, preterm birth or low birth weight, and infection in newborns are all considered adverse outcomes.

Symptoms in newborns include the following:

  • saddle nose, which is characterized by a missing bridge of the nose, fever, and trouble in gaining weight
  • vaginal, anus, and mouth rash 
  • tiny blisters on hands and feet that develop into a copper-colored rash that may be bumpy or flat and spreads to the face
  • runny nasal fluid

Infants and young children who are older may experience the following:

Runny nose kids
  • Hutchinson teeth, or peg-shaped teeth, cause bone pain.
  • loss of eyesight
  • loss of hearing
  • Scarring of the skin around the genitals, anus, and mouth saber shins, a bone problem in the lower legs saber shins, joint swelling saber shins, a bone problem in the lower legs 
  • scarring of the skin around the genitals, anus, and mouth 
  • gray spots around the outer vagina and anus

Cuba was verified by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015 as the first country in the world to have completely eradicated congenital syphilis.

Causes

Syphilis is caused by the transmission of T. pallidum from one individual to another during sexual interaction.

The illness can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus or to a newborn during birth. This is referred to as congenital syphilis.

Syphilis is not contagious through common contact with objects such as doorknobs, dining utensils, and toilet seats,

Who Is Most Likely To Get Syphilis?

Gay couple

Individuals who engage in sexual activity are at risk of developing syphilis. Those most at danger include the following:

  • Individuals who engage in unprotected intercourse 
  • Males who engage in sex with men
  • Individuals living with HIV who have more than one sexual partner

Additionally, syphilitic sores enhance one’s risk of developing HIV.

Learn How To Identify Various STDs

Is it treatable?

Anyone who suspects they may have syphilis or another sexually transmitted infection (STI) should consult a physician immediately, as fast treatment is curative.

Early treatment with penicillin is critical, as the condition can have serious long-term implications.

Syphilis is treatable at later syphilis stages. An individual may, however, require a lengthier course of penicillin.

If nerve or organ damage develops in the late stages of syphilis, treatment will not be able to repair it. However, treatment can avert future damage by eradicating the germs from a person’s body.

Treatment: Curing Syphilis In The Early Stage Can Be Effective

The treatment plan will be determined by the severity of the symptoms and the duration of infection. However, individuals with syphilis will often receive an intramuscular injection of penicillin G benzathine during the primary, secondary, or tertiary stages.

Syphilis that has progressed to the tertiary stage will require repeated injections at weekly intervals.

Neurosyphilis is treated with intravenous (IV) penicillin every four hours for two weeks.

Curing the infection will prevent additional damage to the body, allowing for the return of safe sexual practices. However, treatment cannot undo any damage that has already occurred.

Individuals allergic to penicillin may occasionally be able to take an alternative drug in the early stages. However, anyone with a penicillin allergy will undergo desensitization during pregnancy and the tertiary stages to allow for safe therapy.

Syphilis-infected newborn infants should get antibiotic treatment upon delivery.

On the first day of treatment, chills, fever, nausea, achy pain, and a headache are possible. These are the terms used by physicians to describe these syphilis symptoms. As a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. This does not mean that a person should discontinue treatment.

When is it safe to have sexual relations?

Individuals with syphilis must abstain from sexual contact until all therapy has been completed and they have obtained blood test results proving the disease has resolved.

Blood tests may take several months to demonstrate if syphilis has been eradicated to an acceptable level. Sufficiently low levels indicate adequate treatment.

Examinations and diagnosis

Before conducting clinical tests to establish syphilis, a doctor will conduct a physical examination and inquire about the patient’s sexual history.

Among the tests are the following:

  • Blood tests: These can be used to determine if an infection is current or previous, as antibodies to the syphilis bacteria are present for many years.

A physician can evaluate bodily fluid from a chance during either the main or secondary stage.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid: This fluid is obtained via a spinal tap and examined to determine the disease’s effect on the neurological system.

When a person is diagnosed with syphilis, they must inform all sexual partners. Their relationships should also be screened.

Safe Sex

Local services are offered to inform sexual partners of their possible exposure to syphilis, to facilitate testing, and to administer treatment if necessary.

Additionally, healthcare providers will recommend HIV testing and numerous suppliers now offer syphilis at-home tests.

Many people who have STI are unaware of it.  As a result, it is prudent to consult a physician or request a test in the following situations:

  • following unprotected sex 
  • having a new sex partner
  • having many sex partners having a sexual partner diagnosed with syphilis 
  • having sex with different males
  • Presented with syphilis symptoms

Prevention

Syphilis prevention strategies include the following:

  • refraining from sexual activity
  • maintaining long-term mutual monogamy with a partner who does not have syphilis 
  • using a condom, though these only protect against genital sores and not those that develop elsewhere on the body 
  • using a dental dam, or plastic square, during oral sex 
  • avoiding sharing sex toys 
  • abstaining from alcohol and drugs that may result in unsafe sexual practices.

Having had syphilis once does not mean that a person is immune to it in the future. Even when syphilis has been eradicated from a person’s body through therapy, they may develop it again.

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