Syphilis - Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
Health Education


Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 20 Mar 2013 - 18:14.

Syphilis is a disease that is transmitted through sexual contact of any kind, and is caused by a bacterium. It may also be spread to the fetus during pregnancy or during birth, in which case it is referred to as congenital syphilis. The period between 1940-1980 saw a significant drop in the number of new cases of syphilis, thanks to the discovery of penicillin , but rose sharply again with the outbreak of HIV/ AIDS.

The bacterium causing syphilis, treponema pallidum, is spread mainly through sexual contact, be it oral, vaginal or anal sex, and during vaginal birth, since it passes through mucous membranes (think pink, moist skin) or abrasions on the skin easily. It can also be spread via kissing and possesses a high virulence (ability to cause infection). It is generally not able to be spread by sharing utensils or washrooms, since the bacterium dies outside the body relatively fast.

The symptoms of syphilis are diverse and can easily imitate other conditions. The symptoms are different, however, at different stages, of which there are four.

These are:
Primary Stage
This type of syphilis is the initial manifestation of syphilis, and appears 3-90 days after direct sexual contact (most of the time).

Symptoms/signs may appear as:
• Development of a small bump on the contact area (lip, anus, penis, vulva), which will develop into a single painless ulcer
•   Swelling of lymph nodes around affected area

Secondary Syphilis
This develops about 4- 10 weeks after symptoms of primary infection appear. Symptoms of secondary syphilis may be widespread but more commonly affect the lymph nodes, mucous membranes or the skin.

Symptoms may include:
• Perfectly symmetrical rash on the insides of the hands (palms) or around the trunk which appears reddish and non-itchy
•   Hair loss
•   Sore throat
•   Lack of energy
•   Arthritis
•   Hepatis( rarely)

Latent Syphilis
This is defined as individuals who have definite proof of infection (via diagnosis) but appear mostly asymptomatic. There are two phases of latent syphilis; the early and the late phase. During the early phase a relapse of symptoms may occur, but during late latent infection all signs of infection subside. Late infection is also much less contagious that early latent infection.

Tertiary Syphilis
This stage occurs 3-15 years after the initial infection, and may occur as three distinctively different kinds; neurosyphilis, cardiovascular syphilis and gummatous syphilis. This type of syphilis is not contagious.

As there is no treatment available to prevent the disease, the best option available is either abstinence from sexual activity, or use of a barrier method, such as a condom.
If detected during pregnancy, and there is a viable treatment option available, it may limit risk of transmission to the unborn child.

*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.