What Is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by bacteria. The bacteria are known as Treponema Pallidum which is a subspecies of Pallidum. Just like other types of STDs, the infection can be spread through sexual intercourse and contact.
If a women if pregnant at the time of contracting syphilis then the infection can pass on from mother to foetus or baby onto the baby during child birth. A recent study showed that the amount of people being diagnosed with the infection was on the rise.
Last year there were almost 2811 cases of syphilis in London alone. When left untreated it can lead to a number of health complications which can seriously affect your life and can even prove fatal. At Broadgate GP sexual health clinic, we offer private and discrete treatments for sexual health infections.
What Are The Symptoms of Syphilis?
Syphilis symptoms are often rather mild and can therefore be difficult to recognise. Unfortunately this means that many people who are infected do not know they carry the disease and as a consequence they end up passing it onto others.
To make diagnosis even more difficult the symptoms of the infection can vary over time and can also disappear temporarily. With the infection seeing a rise in infection rates it’s more important than ever, to ensure you’re diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion.
The signs and symptoms of syphilis will depend on which stage the infection presents itself as. There are four main stages which are known as primary, secondary, latent and tertiary.
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Symptoms of Primary Syphilis
Primary syphilis is usually acquired when a person comes into direct sexual contact with another person or infected lesion. Symptoms can appear anywhere between 3 to 90 days after exposure with the initial time being 21 days. Some of the primary symptoms include:
- Small painless open sore or ulcer on the genitals, mouth, skin or rectum
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the area of the sores
These symptoms usually disappear after around 2 to 8 weeks. However, if the infection remains untreated, it can progress to a second stage, the symptoms of which are described below.
Symptoms of Secondary Syphilis
Whilst the bacteria continue to grow in your body you’ll start to experience more symptoms and that’s when you’ll enter the secondary stage. Some of the secondary symptoms include:
- General ill feeling
- Skin rashes usually on the hands or soles of the feet
- Loss of appetite
- Sores in or around the mouth, vagina or penis
- Muscle aches
- Moist or watery patches in the genital or skin folds
- Joint pain
- Changes to vision
- Hair loss
Latent is when you have proof of serologic proof of infection without showing any symptoms of the infection. In the UK, we have a two-year cut off point for early and latent. Early latent symptoms may have a relapse of symptoms, whilst late latent will remain asymptomatic. If it goes undiagnosed and/or untreated, the infection can do damage to the brain and/or the nerves.
Symptoms of Tertiary Syphilis
Tertiary syphilis typically occurs 3 to 15 years after the initial infection, without treatment a third of people who become infected with syphilis will develop tertiary. If the infection has developed to the tertiary stage you will no longer be contagious. Tertiary symptoms can be:
- Damage to the heart causing aneurysms or problems with the valves
- Central nervous system disorders
- Tumours on the skin, bones or liver
This damage can be potentially life-threatening. So it’s important to seek diagnosis and treatment if you know you’ve been in contact with someone with syphilis or if you suspect you might have contracted it.
How Syphilis is Spread
Syphilis is spread through close contact with another person who has an infected sore. This is most likely to happen during vaginal, anal or oral sex or by sharing adult toys with an infected person. Everyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting the infection. It’s also possible for the sexually transmitted infection to spread when using the same toilet, clothing, cutlery or bathroom as an infected person.
If you think you have syphilis then it’s important to get an STD test carried out to ensure you’re diagnosed. Once diagnosed there are a number of treatments that can be can be used to treat the infection.
Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the infection and the course of tablets will typically last between two to four weeks. The length of time you need to take tablets for will depend on how long you’ve had the infection. An injection of antibiotics can also be administered to the buttocks and most people will usually need one dose. If you’ve had syphilis for a long time then three injections can be given at weekly intervals.
How to Prevent Syphilis
Syphilis can’t always be prevented as the symptoms aren’t always noticeable. If you are sexually active with multiple or different partners then you can reduce the risk by:
- Use of male or female condoms
- Using a dental dam during oral sex
- Avoid sharing adult toys
There are also a number of other preventive methods that can be used to help prevent developing syphilis and its symptoms. If you’re a drug user who inject needles then be sure to never share a needle. If you think you might have already contracted the infection, then you can arrange a discrete and fully confidential appointment with Broadgate GP.