All About Syphilis

What Is Syphilis?

Syphilis is an STD that is easily spread by those who engage in unprotected sexual activities. Fortunately, with the development of penicillin, and increased public awareness, it is far less common now than it once was. Syphilis is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum, and modern antibiotics are highly effective at treating the illness. Men and women are vulnerable to the disease regardless of their sexual orientation.

Syphilis Symptoms for Men

As with some other STDs, a syphilis infection will go through different stages after infecting a new host. The symptoms often vary from stage to stage, and patient to patient. The signs of a syphilis infection are similar in men and women, and will usually show up within one month of exposure to the disease.

The first sign of a syphilis infection is when sores begin to appear on the genitals and/or around the lips and mouth of the new carrier. They are often painless, and will heal by themselves over time.

The second stage will see even more of the sores appear on the hands, feet and other areas of the body. This second outbreak can last for more than a month. Frequently, a patient in second stage syphilis will also feel feverish and have their lymph nodes become swollen and sore. As with the primary stage of the sickness, these symptoms will eventually heal themselves.

The infection will sometimes go dormant for a period, and the signs of the disease disappear for a time. However, in the third or tertiary stage, the effects of the syphilis bacteria become more severe. There may be a partial loss of sight, and even total blindness at this point. Heart problems, dementia, and deafness can also result. Left untreated the disease frequently proves fatal.

Syphilis Symptoms for Women

Women suffering from a syphilis infection frequently follow the same path as men. There will be sores, and the progressive worsening of the symptoms associated with the disease. A pregnant woman that does not receive immediate treatment for a syphilis condition puts her unborn child at serious risk. Stillborn babies or very sick babies often result from a mother who carries the disease. Those that do survive often develop developmental disabilities and suffer from seizures.

How Do You Get Syphilis?

Engaging in unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an unprotected, infected partner is an excellent way to contract syphilis. As the disease is usually spread by contact with the sores that the bacteria produce, kissing and close physical contact may be enough to transmit the illness from one person to another.

You cannot get syphilis from using the same toilet, dishes or other eating utensils as a person carrying the disease. There is no risk from swimming in the same pool as a carrier or sharing a bathroom and toilet.

Risks and Effects of Syphilis

As the disease is now preventable and treatable, there are fewer risks associated with a syphilis infection. However, in less-developed countries and areas that lack proper health care, there are still serious risks associated with untreated syphilis. These include brain damage, blindness and severe arthritis.

Pregnant women can easily pass the disease to their babies. This condition is known as congenital syphilis and may cause serious complications in a new born child. It is also not uncommon for mothers carrying syphilis to deliver stillborn infants.

Syphilis Treatment

Syphilis responds well when treated with antibiotics. If a patient receives medication in the early stages of the disease, a complete recovery is entirely possible. The longer the disease goes untreated, the greater the risk of complications, and the less effective antibiotics may be in arresting the progress of the infection.

Syphilis Testing

A doctor can often tell by examining the sores on a patient's hands, feet, genitalia or mouth whether or not the person has contracted syphilis. A simple blood test is available to confirm whether the patient is a carrier. The blood is tested for antibodies that will determine whether or not the person is infected.

Complications from Untreated Syphilis?

Brain and heart problems, blindness, deafness and other serious side effects can result from an untreated syphilis infection. The longer the condition is ignored, the more serious the health complications become. The illness also becomes increasingly difficult to treat.

Can We Prevent Syphilis?

It is certainly possible to avoid becoming infected with syphilis. Keep your sex safe, and avoid close and intimate contact with those carrying the disease. Maintaining a monogamous relationship with a clean partner cuts your chances of getting sick from syphilis and most other STDs. Sexual abstinence also will reduce, but not entirely eliminate the risk of a syphilis infection, as it is possible (but rare) for the disease to be spread by non-sexual contact.

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