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Syphilis: Transmission, Causes, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment

Aug 16, 2023

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How is Syphilis Transmitted?

Causes Of Syphilis

Symptoms Of Syphilis

Stages  Of Syphilis

Primary Syphilis

Secondary Syphilis

Latent Syphilis

Tertiary Syphilis

Diagnosis Of Syphilis

Treatment Of Syphilis


A bacterial condition called syphilis is usually spread through sexual contact. The sickness typically starts off as a sore on the lips, genitalia, or rectum. Touching mucous membranes or skin lesions can transmit syphilis from one person to another.

After the first infection, the syphilis bacteria can lay dormant in the body for decades before reawakening.Early syphilis is rarely treatable with a single dose of penicillin.

Syphilis can be fatal if left untreated since it gravely damages the heart, brain, and other organs. Syphilis can also be passed from mothers to their unborn children.

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How is Syphilis Transmitted?

Direct contact with syphilitic chancres, or sores, is the only way syphilis may be spread. These lesions typically appear on or in the:

  • Mouth
  • Penis
  • Vagina
  • Anus

Sexual contact is the primary method of transmission for syphilis. It can therefore be acquired through oral, anal, vaginal, or direct genital-to-genital contact.

If a mother's infection is left untreated, babies may get syphilis and it is known as  Congenital syphilis. Blood transfusions can potentially spread syphilis, however, this is extremely uncommon.

Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get syphilis by:

  • Utilizing another person's dining utensils 
  • Sharing a bathroom

This is because syphilis-causing bacteria can't survive for very long outside of the human body.

Causes Of Syphilis

A bacterium known as Treponema pallidum is the cause of syphilis. The most frequent means of syphilis transmission during sexual activity is contact with a sore on an infected person. Small abrasions or cuts on the skin or mucous membranes allow the germs to enter the body. The acute, secondary, and occasionally early latent stages of syphilis are communicable.

Syphilis can less frequently be transmitted by coming into contact with an active lesion, like when kissing. Additionally, during pregnancy or childbirth, moms can transmit it to their offspring.

Sharing doorknobs, hot tubs, or swimming pools will not spread syphilis, nor will sharing the same toilet, bathtub, clothing, or dining utensils.

Syphilis does not spontaneously recur after being treated. But you could get infected again.

Symptoms Of Syphilis

The severity of the infection affects the symptoms of syphilis. In the beginning, when symptoms are most likely to manifest, you are most contagious. One or more genital sores appear during the initial phase. They could be invisible to you or misdiagnosed as a pimple or another skin condition.

A rash and flu-like symptoms, including exhaustion, a fever, a sore throat, and muscle aches, are possible during the second stage.

The latent stage of syphilis occurs after the second stage, when the symptoms are concealed. The infection may still be present even though you may not be experiencing any symptoms. Treatment with medication is the only thing that both heals and stops the infection from spreading.

Stages  Of Syphilis

There are  four stages of syphilis:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Latent
  • Tertiary

When syphilis is in the hidden, or latent, stage, the illness is still present but frequently does not manifest symptoms. The most harmful stage of syphilis is tertiary.

Primary Syphilis

About 3 to 4 weeks after a person is exposed to the germs, the primary stage of syphilis sets in.It begins with chancre, a small, circular sore.Although chancres are harmless, they are quite contagious. When they exist, people might not even notice. Anywhere the germs entered the body, including the genitals, the rectum, or the area around or within the mouth, could experience the onset of this sore.

The sore often appears 3 weeks after infection, although it might take up to 90 days. For two to six weeks, the discomfort persists. Swollen lymph nodes may occasionally be the only sign.

Direct touch with an open sore is how syphilis is spread. This typically happens during sexual activities, especially oral sex.

Secondary Syphilis

The second stage of syphilis can cause skin rashes and a painful throat. The rash won't itch and typically appears on the palms and soles, but it can appear anywhere on the body. Some people fail to notice the rash before it disappears.

Other signs of secondary syphilis may include:

  • Headaches
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Hair loss
  • Joint pain

These symptoms will go away whether you get therapy or not. Yet untreated individuals continue to have syphilis.

Secondary syphilis is frequently confused with other illnesses, including:

Because of this, syphilis has been given the term "great imitator" People may choose to dismiss their symptoms because they might be so vague, and professionals may not always be aware that an infection is there.

Latent Syphilis

The latent, or concealed, stage of syphilis is the third stage. There won't be any observable symptoms at this point as the primary and secondary symptoms vanish. The germs are still present in the body, though. Years could pass between this stage and tertiary syphilis.

Tertiary Syphilis

Tertiary syphilis is the infection's final stage. Approximately 14 to 40% of syphilis patients progress to this stage. Tertiary syphilis may emerge years or even decades after the initial infection. Tertiary syphilis may be lethal in some cases. Subsequent syphilis may also cause the following additional effects:

  • Blindness
  • Decrease in hearing
  • Behavioral health issues
  • Loss of memory
  • Heart disease
  • Neurological conditions such stroke or meningitis
  • Damage of soft tissue and bone
  • A brain or spinal cord infection known as neurosyphilis

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Diagnosis Of Syphilis

Your doctor will inquire about your sexual history, including whether or not you engage in safe sex. Being truthful will be important during this talk. Your doctor can assist you in determining your risk and also suggest tests for additional STIs.

Your doctor will examine you and draw blood to check for symptoms of the infection during the syphilis test. Your healthcare professional could take a small sample of skin or fluid from a syphilis sore to examine under a microscope. Only by visiting your doctor and receiving a lab test can you be certain whether or not you have syphilis.

Treatment Of Syphilis

Antibiotics are used by your doctor to treat syphilis. Antibiotics are prescribed medications that treat bacterial illnesses. 

The most widely prescribed drug for treating syphilis is penicillin. Depending on your syphilis stage and symptoms, you will need a different dosage and length of treatment.

Even if the sore or rash disappears, you must take all of your medications. It's critical to get in touch with anybody you've had sex with in the previous two years and advise them that they ought to get tested.

Following syphilis treatment, your doctor will do a blood test to ensure the infection has been eradicated. If you have a higher risk of syphilis, practise safe sex and get regular tests done because you can contract the disease again even after receiving treatment.

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