Rare Fewer than 800,000 US cases per year
- Requires medical diagnosis and lab tests
- Symptoms: Ulcer or swelling, sometimes no symptoms
- Color: Typically brown
- Location: Genital area
- Treatment: Surgery, Chemotherapy
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria, and the number of infected individuals has increased in recent years. The most common way to get infected is by having vaginal or anal sex without a condom or through oral sex. Syphilis can also be transmitted through blood transfusions and through unclean syringes with needles.
The disease is divided into three stages and can last for many years with more or less complications throughout this time. At worst, syphilis may cause serious damage to the heart and brain. You are most contagious the first ten weeks, but the disease is contagious up to two years after infection if not treated.
Symptoms of Syphilis
You can be infected with syphilis without developing any symptoms. Approximately three to four weeks after infection, there is usually first an ulcer (usually on the genitals) and swelling (usually in the groin). The ulcer may be so small that it is not noticeable and it heals on its own after four to eight weeks. However, the disease can then spread to your blood and cause various skin rashes.
After seven to ten weeks a fever may develop with swollen lymph glands and a rash on the body. Many of the body’s organs may start to develop symptoms at this time. You can also feel disturbed and tired, get headaches and fever. It can be hard to detect syphilis, because its symptoms are similar to many other diseases. Some patients have no physical symptoms at all in the beginning; while others may be so mild that they do not notice anything. Even if you experience no symptoms, you could still be infectious.
Untreated syphilis can develop serious symptoms after several years or even decades. The skin, mucous membranes, bones and organs can be affected. In the worst cases, syphilis can damage the heart, blood vessels and nervous system.
What can I do?
Untreated syphilis can develop serious symptoms after several years or even decades. Seek help from a medical professional.
Should I seek medical care?
The early stage lasts for two years and during that period, especially the first year, you can infect others through sex. After about two years, syphilis could be cured without any treatment, but it could also develop into late syphilis.
In the later stage, syphilis is transmitted not through sex, but the through blood. For example, if you are pregnant, the child can become infected. It is especially important to get tested if you are pregnant and suspect that you may be infected with syphilis.
If you get treatment in time, you will be completely healthy. But if you have syphilis for many years and do not receive treatment, syphilis could in the worst cases damage the heart and brain.
An RPR test measures the antibodies that are present in the blood rather than searching for the bacterium that causes syphilis. This is typical of many STDs and using an RPR test can also effectively verify that antibiotic therapy has been successful – the doctor will be looking for a drop in the antibodies your body creates to fend off syphilis.
Treatment for Syphilis
Syphilis is cured using antibiotics (long-acting penicillin). The treatment is administered intravenously or intramuscularly with a single dose once a week for two to three weeks. After treatment of early syphilis you should go on regular blood tests until the samples show that the infection is gone. Usually you have to go on for checks after three, six and twelve months.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm
Best Medical Degrees. Available at https://www.bestmedicaldegrees.com/.
Daily Mail. Heat map reveals where highest rates of STDs occur in the U.S. – and most are found in the South. Available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2254609/Heat-map-reveals-highest-rates-STDs-occur-U-S–South.html#ixzz4ApD16PTb.
Evaluation of a Multiplex Fully Automated Treponemal and Nontreponemal (Rapid Plasma Reagin) Assay. Arbefeville S, Lynch M, Ferrieri P. Am J Clin Pathol. 2019 Jul 5;152(2):230-236
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