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Syphilis - Symptoms, causes and treatment


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by Treponema pallidum bacterium. Syphilis begins with an open sore (ulcer) that releases fluid containing syphilis germs. Contact with this ulcer or other infectious sores that develop later in the disease, generally during vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse, can spread syphilis. Syphilis, if left untreated, progresses through a succession of stages that affect various areas of the body, but some stages overlap:

Syphilis creates a painless ulcer called a chancre in the vaginal region, where the syphilis germs enter the body. This stage lasts between ten to ninety days (on average three weeks) after a person is exposed to someone who has syphilis. Without therapy, the sore resolves in around four to eight weeks.

Secondary syphilis – The syphilis germs spread throughout the body at this stage. This frequently results in a rash covering the majority of the body, as well as fever, aches and pains, and other symptoms. This stage lasts six to eight weeks after a person is introduced to syphilis.

Latent syphilis – This stage begins after the secondary stage has ended. Despite the absence of symptoms, the individual remains sick. This period can span several years, if not the entirety of an individual's life. Approximately one-third of latent syphilis patients develop tertiary syphilis.

Tertiary syphilis — At this stage, syphilis germs may severely harm numerous internal organs, including the brain and spinal cord. It often manifests within ten years of infection and can be fatal.

Pregnant mothers who have syphilis can transmit the bacteria to their infants, resulting in congenital syphilis. Syphilis congenital causes a range of skin and organ issues in babies and is often fatal. Pregnant women with syphilis also have a roughly 40% chance of having a stillborn baby.

If you have syphilis, it may be simpler for you to get HIV. If you currently have HIV, syphilis may increase your risk of transmitting HIV to others.

Symptoms

Syphilis symptoms vary according to the stage of the infection:

Primary syphilis — Typically, a single ulcer (chancre) develops at the site of infection. Although chancres are most frequently found in the vaginal area, they can also grow around the mouth or anus. The chancre is solid and painless, and it exudes syphilis-infected fluid. Occasionally, lymph nodes next to the ulcer expand but remain painless. The chancre associated with primary syphilis often cures within one to five weeks, although the patient remains infected.

Syphilis secondary — Typical secondary syphilis symptoms include the following:

A rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet that may resemble hard "copper penny" patches or tiny red dots.

A rash that develops on the arms, legs, and trunk — The rash may appear as tiny spots or indented circles; small pus-filled blisters; or broad grey or pink areas.

Inside the mouth and on other mucous membranes, white spots.

Without therapy, rash symptoms typically resolve within two to six weeks without treatment.

Additional symptoms may include the following:

Lymph nodes that have grown in size (swollen glands)

Fever

Headaches

Aches in the muscles

Throat irritation

Appetite deficit

Loss of weight

Extreme exhaustion

These additional symptoms often persist approximately a year without treatment.

Latent stage – This stage is symptom-free.

Syphilis tertiary — Syphilis generates symptoms associated with significant organ damage at this stage. These symptoms may include the following:

Gummas are malignant tumours that develop in the mouth, nose, tongue, bones, skin, liver, or other organs.

Chest discomfort or difficulty breathing may be caused by damage to the heart valves or the aorta's wall (the major blood vessel bringing blood from the heart to the rest of the body)

Joint discomfort

Due to nerve or brain injury, paralysis, coordination difficulties, loss of feeling, blindness, degradation of intellectual function, personality changes, and impotence may occur.

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you of having syphilis, he or she will search for any of the disease's characteristic signs, including a chancre in the vaginal area. Syphilis can be diagnosed by drawing fluid from a suspicious lesion and examining it under a microscope for the presence of syphilis germs.

Additionally, your doctor may request blood tests to look for specific antibodies seen in patients with syphilis. However, individuals who do not have syphilis may test positive for these antibodies in rare circumstances. A positive test result may require confirmation by a second blood test.

Due to the increased risk of HIV infection in persons with syphilis, public health experts urge that all people infected with syphilis undergo HIV testing.

Unless treated, syphilis is a chronic infection.

Prevention

A person with primary or secondary syphilis can infect his or her sexual partner. During sexual contact, germs can spread from sores to an uninfected sexual partner via microscopic skin breaches. To avoid this, a person infected with syphilis (and his or her sexual partners) should abstain from sexual activity until the illness is fully treated. Every pregnant woman should undergo a syphilis blood test to avoid transmitting the illness to her unborn child.

Treatment

Primary syphilis is typically curable with a single long-acting penicillin injection. Individuals in the later stages require a longer course of penicillin. Other antibiotics, such as doxycycline, azithromycin, or ceftriaxone, may be useful in the presence of penicillin allergy. All sexual partners of persons who have syphilis should also be treated. Babies born with congenital syphilis should get penicillin treatment.

When Should You Consult a Doctor?

Consult your physician if you develop any of the syphilis symptoms, particularly if you are pregnant. If you have a sexual partner who has been diagnosed with syphilis, call your doctor immediately to begin treatment.

Prognosis

Early syphilis infection can be treated without causing permanent harm with adequate antibiotic therapy. Although antibiotics are effective in the later stages of syphilis, they will not restore any organ damage caused by the illness. Without treatment, around one-third of individuals with latent syphilis develop tertiary syphilis, posing serious organ damage and mortality.

Disclaimer:

No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.

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