Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as syphilis, can lead to severe complications when left untreated. The good news is that syphilis is highly treatable with the right medical intervention.
What is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum. It is primarily transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sexual contact, often resulting in painless sores appearing on the genitals, rectum, or mouth.
While sexual contact and exposure to open sores are common modes of transmission, syphilis can also be transmitted from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy. It's important to note that the disease is most contagious in its early stages and becomes less so over time.
Types of syphilis
Syphilis is a disease that develops in stages. These stages can present different symptoms.
In the initial stage, syphilis manifests as a sore known as a chancre. This sore typically lacks pain and may be concealed in various areas, such as:
- In men: the penis, anus, and rectum.
- In women: the vulva, cervix, and perineum.
- In both sexes: the lips or mouth.
Chancres have a tendency to spread and can damage nearby tissues. Because they are painless and often not visible to the naked eye, many individuals may not even be aware of their presence. Typically, these sores heal within 3 to 6 weeks.
In the second stage of syphilis, following the healing of the initial sore or chancre, a rash emerges in the form of skin lesions. These lesions typically appear on the trunk and extend to the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
These symptoms typically surface between 6 to 12 weeks after the onset of the initial chancre or sore. During this stage, patients may also experience additional symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue. These signs and symptoms may subside within a few weeks or intermittently reoccur over the course of approximately a year.
When left untreated, syphilis advances from the secondary stage into a phase known as latent or occult syphilis. This stage is asymptomatic and can extend over several years. In some cases, symptoms may never resurface, while in others, syphilis may progress to a third and more advanced phase.
Tertiary syphilis represents one of the most damaging stages of the disease. It typically emerges several years after the initial infection. During this stage, symptoms may manifest as granulomatous lesions, impacting vital organs like the heart and the nervous system.
Congenital Syphilis: Transmission from Mother to Child
Infants born to mothers with syphilis can contract the infection during childbirth or through the placenta. These newborns typically do not exhibit any symptoms, although they may develop a rash on the soles of their feet and hands.
Symptoms of Syphilis
Symptoms of syphilis materialize in accordance with the distinct phases and stages of the disease, each with its unique characteristics. These symptoms can manifest anywhere from 10 to 90 days following the initial infection, and they may sometimes go unnoticed.
- First Stage: This phase is marked by the appearance of painless sores and swollen glands.
- Second Stage: The most common symptom in this stage is an outbreak that can appear on various parts of the body, including the trunk, arms, and legs. Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sore throat, headaches, rashes, loss of appetite, partial hair loss, and swollen glands.
- Third Stage: In the final stage, symptoms may involve skin, bone, heart, and central nervous system complications.
How is this STD spread?
Syphilis can be transmitted among sexually active individuals through various means:
- Direct contact with a syphilis sore or rash.
- Engaging in vaginal, oral, or anal sexual intercourse with an infected person.
- Participating in oral sex without penetration.
- Blood transfusions, although this is relatively rare.
- Congenital transmission from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
It's important to note that individuals can become reinfected with syphilis, even if they have previously been treated. This type of sexual transmission often occurs during the primary, secondary, or latent stages of syphilis.
It's also worth mentioning that syphilis cannot be spread through casual objects such as seats, swimming pools, toilets, etc. Transmission only occurs from one person to another through direct contact.
Consequences of not diagnosing it in time
When syphilis is left untreated, it can wreak havoc on the body, leading to a range of severe consequences:
- The development of small lumps or tumors.
- Neurological problems, affecting the nervous system.
- Cardiovascular issues that can compromise heart health.
- An increased risk of contracting HIV infection.
- Complications during pregnancy and childbirth, posing risks to both the mother and the child.
In many cases, sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis can be challenging to identify without proper testing. The only definitive way to determine if you have an STD is to seek a diagnosis through medical testing. Don't leave your sexual health to chance; get tested.