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What is Syphilis

What is Syphilis

What is syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection divided into four stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary).  Different signs and symptoms are associated with each stage. If untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems.

How is syphilis spread

Direct contact with a syphilis sore is the most common method, whether it is through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.  Sores can be found in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth.

What does syphilis look like

Syphilis has four stages.

Primary Stage: When sores occur at the original site of infection.  They will usually occur around the genitals, around the anus or in the rectum, or in or around the mouth.

Secondary Stage: Symptoms during this stage can be mild, and might not be noticed.  Skin rashes, swollen lymph nodes, and fevers may occur.

Latent Stage: No signs or symptoms

Tertiary Stage: The most severe stage, acute medical problems may occur affecting the heart, brain and other organs in the body.

How can I reduce my risk of getting syphilis

Abstinence from vaginal, anal or oral sex is the only way to avoid STDs, but if you are sexually active, the following are things to lower the chances of contracted syphilis:

  • Be in a long-term monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results;
  • Use latex condoms correctly each time you have sex

What do the symptoms of syphilis look like

Primary Stage:

  • Appearance of multiple sores or a single sore.
  • Where syphilis enters the body is where the sore occurs.
  • Sores can be firm, round, and painless, but not always.  They can therefore go unnoticed.
  • Regardless of whether you receive treatment or not, sores can last 3 to 6 weeks.  Even after the sores disappear, you must still receive treatment to stop the infection progressing to the second stage.

Secondary Stage:

  • Skin rashes and/or mucous membrane lesions may occur in the mouth, vagina or anus.
  • This stage begins usually with a rash on one or more areas of your body, and can appear when your primary sore is healing or several weeks after the sore is healed.
  • The rash can look like rough, red, or reddish-brown spots on the palms of your hands and/or the bottoms of your feet.  The rash doesn’t always itch, and is sometimes faint and unnoticeable.
  • Fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue are also common symptoms.  Symptoms from this stage will disappear regardless of whether you receive treatment. Therefore, it is important to get treatment, otherwise the infection will progress to the next stage.

Latent Stage:

  • This is a period of time when there are no visible symptoms.  Without the treatment, however, syphilis can continue in your body for years without signs or symptoms.

Tertiary Stage:

  • The brain, heart and blood vessels, as well as the nervous system may all be affected.
  • Tertiary syphilis is extremely serious and can occur 10-30 years after the initial infection.  The disease affects your internal organs and can result in death.

Neurosyphilis and Ocular Syphilis:

Syphilis can spread to the brain (neurosyphilis) or to the eye (ocular syphilis) without treatment.

  • Symptoms of neurosyphilis:
    • Severe headaches
    • Difficulty coordinating muscle movements
    • Paralysis
    • Dementia
  • Symptoms of ocular syphilis:
    • Changes to your vision, including up to blindness.

How will I or my doctor know I have syphilis

Blood tests are used to diagnose syphilis.

Can syphilis be cured

Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics.  Treatment, however, may not be able to undo damage that infections have already caused.