What is syphilis?

What is syphilis?

Caused by bacteria called Treponema pallidum , syphilis is a dangerous STI that's passed on through unprotected sex, and from mother to child before or during birth.

New cases are on the increase once more - mostly among young adults and gay men.

What are the symptoms of syphilis?

Syphilis goes through four different stages: primary, secondary, latent and tertiary. Following the initial infection, it takes up to four weeks before a highly contagious sore, a 'chancre' (pronounced shanker), appears on the genitals, rectum or mouth. This is usually painless and if left untreated will disappear, but that doesn't mean the disease has gone away.

Within eight weeks the disease moves into its secondary stage. Symptoms include a rash, warty-looking growths on the genitals, tiredness, headaches with a fever, swollen lymph nodes, a sore throat, and hair and weight loss. These symptoms can come and go at random over roughly three months, but unless treated will begin to affect the entire body as it progresses to the latent period.

Lasting anything from a month to a patients' entire lifetime, the latent period sees the spirochete (the type of bacteria) affecting the bone marrow, lymph glands, vital organs and the central nervous system of its host. However, there are no obvious symptoms, and around 50-70% of patients live out the rest of their lives without the disease ever progressing to the tertiary stage.

Within eight weeks the disease moves into its secondary stage. Symptoms include a rash, warty-looking growths on the genitals, tiredness, headaches with a fever, swollen lymph nodes, a sore throat, and hair and weight loss. These symptoms can come and go at random over roughly three months, but unless treated will begin to affect the entire body as it progresses to the latent period.

 

What does it look like?

The chancres can be red, firm and sometimes wet. They don't hurt and there's usually only one, but there can be more. During the second stage a reddish/brown rash can develop anywhere on the body, white patches can appear on the tongue and wart-like growths can materialise where the infection started. Once in the tertiary stage, multiple weeping sores can spread all over the genitals, anus or around the mouth.

How do I treat syphilis?

If you find a chancre or you've had unprotected sex with someone with a dubious past, see a Doctor and get tested . Caught in the primary or secondary stage, a scraping will be taken from the sores and a blood test may be needed for diagnosis. Treatment is simple: primary and secondary syphilis can be blasted with a high dose injection of penicillin, which will kill the bacteria within 24 hours. Left until the latent stage, however, and treatment will require three injections given at weekly intervals. Antibiotics will be prescribed if you're allergic to penicillin.

As there's a high risk of passing it on it's essential to inform partners so they can get themselves checked out.

What if I ignore it?

Syphilis is a dangerous STI that doesn't just go away. The symptoms may come and go and even disappear for years, but unless treated the bacteria can easily become active again.

An untreated pregnant woman is likely to pass the infection on to her unborn child, which can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, or the baby being born with syphilis. Syphilis also increases the risk of HIV infection because HIV can enter the body more easily when there's a sore present.

 

Call South Downs Sexual Health Clinic on 01243 388 712 and protect your health today.

 

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