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What is Syphilis
Syphilis is a bacteria transferred through sexual intercourse. Syphilis tends to have roughly three stages – the first two are “warning” stages and the final stage destroys the body from the inside without noticeable symptoms for years. This STD is difficult to catch due to its tendency to mimic the symptoms of other infections.
How is Syphilis Transmitted or Spread?
Transmission of this STD occurs when one person contacts open “syphilis sores.” These sores are unique in that they can be hidden inside the body and completely invisible to the naked eye. The most common places to find sores include the anus, rectum, vagina, or genital area. On occasion, sores can also be found in the mouth and on the lips of a Syphilis carrier, which means unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex all put partners at risk for infection.
There are three stages of Syphilis with varied symptoms; sometimes these symptoms go completely unnoticed as they're either not alarming or quickly clear up without any treatment. This means the infection can be passed on by someone with no knowledge of what they're carrying.
- Otherwise known as the “primary” stage, this stage involves the appearance of small round sore on or near the area where the Syphilis infection has begun. The official name for this sore is a “chancre.” Usually there's only one sore, but sometimes multiple sores can appear. The CDC estimates an average of 21 days from infection to presentation of the first symptom of Syphilis. After about three to six the chancre will go away on its own, but if this first stage isn't noticed and immediately treated the body will not heal itself and stage two will begin.
- Commonly called the “secondary” stage of Syphilis, this is when multiple symptoms begin to appear, including:
- A painless, no-itch rash that sometimes presents with so little definition that it's unnoticed
- Hair loss
- Sore throat
- Swollen Lymph nodes
- Muscle Aches
- Unexplained weight loss
Just as with the first stage, these symptoms will eventually go away on their own without any treatment. However, that's when the real problem begins – Syphilis that gets beyond this stage untreated begins to do damage to the internal organs.
- This stage is usually referred to as “latent” or “late.” What it means is the body stops presenting outward signs of Syphilis, even though the disease is raging inside. The CDC estimates that only 15% of people who don't receive treatment will reach this stage, which can develop over ten years after the last symptoms. Symptoms that will begin to appear as the disease destroys vital functions inside the body:
- Loss of motor coordination
- Loss of correct mental functioning
- Chronic numbness
A mother who gives birth to a baby while infected with Syphilis can infect the infant during the pregnancy. Often, the effect is a stillbirth. Should the baby survive, it will likely not make it more than a few weeks. If it outlives that prognosis the baby will likely spend the rest of its life with disabilities and seizures.
How to Prevent Syphilis
The use of a condom during sexual intercourse is the best way to prevent the spread of Syphilis. It's also been recommended by the CDC that avoiding any drug or alcohol use before or during sexual intercourse may also be helpful.
Abstinence is the best way to prevent the transmission of any sexually transmitted disease. If you are sexually active, condoms are a helpful preventative measure if used correctly each time. The risk of infection for any STD, including Syphilis, is significantly lowered if you both you and your partner have been tested, and are only having sex with each other. People who engage in risky sexual behavior, or have sex with people they don't know very well, are at a much greater risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases. People who regularly use drugs and alcohol are at a higher risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including Syphilis, because they are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
Please read more about STD transmission and prevention here.
How to Treat or Cure Syphilis?
In the early stages, the bacteria can be killed with a simple dose of Penicillin or a similar medication for those allergic to Penicillin. Damage done by the STD cannot be reversed by medication, but further damage can be halted. In late stages Penicillin can still be administered but the damage from Syphilis will be much more extensive.
What should I expect from my doctor?
Depending on when you go to the doctor, there are two possible methods for diagnosing this STD. The first is taking a sample from a chancre and examining it under a special “dark-field” microscope. The second is a blood test for antibodies that appear as the body tries to fight the Syphilis infection. The CDC recommends that every pregnant woman get a test for Syphilis in case she's carrying the disease without knowing it. If you come back positive for the disease, your doctor may want to administer the penicillin or alternative immediately and then do additional testing to determine whether or not there was any permanent damage done.