Syphilis

Syphilis

Syphilis

 

Description

The bacteria T. Pallidum cause syphilis, a spiral shaped organism that undergoes mitosis (splits in two) about once per day.

Symptoms

Syphilis develops over several stages and throughout these stages the symptoms will vary from person to person.

Stage 1: Primary

The primary stage of syphilis is characterized by a lesion (chancre) that forms near the genital region. In about 50% of cases reported, the lesion will have a raised, firm red border, be a dark pink color and does not bleed easily. But remember, the appearance and number of chancres can vary greatly from case-to-case. The lesion may heal up without treatment and this is a sign that the disease has progressed to its next stage. Have a doctor look at any lesion you discover on your body, especially if the lesion is located near or on your genitals.

Stage 2: Secondary

The secondary symptoms include: new lesions, sore throat, low-grade fever, headache, and a rash. The new lesions are likely to surface on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. However, it is possible for them to form in other areas as well. The appearance and location of the rash is variable; it does not itch and is not uncomfortable. If still left untreated, the secondary lesions will heal and all other symptoms will disappear; this indicates that the disease has evolved into latent syphilis.

Stage 3: Latent Syphilis

Latent syphilis usually begins between 6 months and 2 years after the initial infection. Roughly 25% of infected individuals will experience a return of some the secondary symptoms. Unfortunately in most cases the latent stage is asymptomatic (i.e., no symptoms). Most people assume that their body has cured whatever they had, and the disease goes yet again untreated. Latent syphilis may stay with the patient for life or it may progress to late syphilis.

Stage 4: Tertiary or Late Syphilis

Late syphilis may emerge in the body anywhere from 2 to 50 years following the initial infection. It is approximated that 35% of infected people who go untreated will contract late syphilis. This final stage of syphilis may take the forms of late benign syphilis, cardio-vascular syphilis and neuro-syphilitic disease. A patient may have one or a combination of these forms. Although the majority of patients who do not seek treatment will not develop late syphilis, there is no way to diagnose which patients are at risk. More importantly though, as a carrier of the disease you are endangering the lives of others by not getting medical treatment.

Tertiary Benign or Late Benign Syphilis

Late benign syphilis is the most common form of late syphilis. Normally, it appears 3 to 7 years after initial exposure. Harmful ulcers (called gummas) typically form on or in the affected organs. It may affect the skin, liver, digestive tract, muscles, eyes and endocrine organs. The term “benign” indicates that the ulcers rarely cause physical impairment or death. At this stage, if proper treatment by a physician is followed, the gummas will heal and the patient will recover fully.

Cardio-vascular Syphilis

Cardiovascular syphilis is a relatively rare form of syphilis, affecting about 10% of all untreated carriers. It usually develops 10 to 40 years after the initial infection. This form of late syphilis results in damage to the heart and major blood vessels, and is therefore often fatal.

Neuro-syphilitic Disease

Less than 10% of all untreated subjects will be affected by neuro-syphilitic disease. The central nervous system is adversely affected.

Transmission

Syphilis is transmitted during kissing, anal and vaginal intercourse, and oral-genital contact. The bacteria can enter the body by penetrating the mucous membranes or any small cracks in the skin. Pregnant women with syphilis can infect their fetus, so it is best to quickly deal with this infection if contracted during pregnancy. Syphilis does not survive long outside the body and therefore non-sexual transmission of the disease is uncommon.

Treatment

Syphilis is effectively treated with prescription antibiotics such as penicillin. Discuss with your physician about which treatment is best for you.

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