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Syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection or STD. It is caused by Treponema pallidum, a spiral-shaped bacterium. It can affect both men and women who are sexually active. Syphilis can be transmitted from an infected person to another during oral, anal and vaginal sex and oral-genital contact. It can also be passed on by direct skin contact with someone who has syphilis sores or a syphilis rash and by sharing sex toys. Syphilis can also be transmitted by blood transfusion. Those who have tested positive for syphilis are vulnerable to other STD like Gonorrhea and HIV.

Syphilis develops in stages. Not everyone will go through all the stages. Between the stages are periods that are symptom-free or latent periods. When the infection is active, symptoms are noticeable. When it's not active, the symptoms are unnoticeable but syphilis persists.

Primary syphilis: Syphilis is highly contagious during the first stage. The incubation period is around 21 days before the first signs and symptoms appear. A painless red sore called a chancre appears on the part of the body like vagina, rectum, penis or mouth, places where the spirochetes moved from the infected person to another. The painless sore isn't noticed or recognized most of the time and the infected individual may not fall ill. The chancre may heal after 4 to 6 weeks but it does not indicate that syphilis has actually gone away. It continues to spread throughout the body.


Secondary syphilis: The bacterial has spread into the bloodstream. Without treatment, blood-borne spread of Treponema pallidum over the next several weeks to months results in secondary syphilis. It usually occurs 2 to 8 weeks after the appearance of chancre sore and several weeks after chancre have healed. Symptoms include fever, multiform skin eruptions, iritis, alopecia, mucous patches and severe pain in the head and joints. The signs and symptoms of secondary syphilis will resolve with or without treatment, but without treatment, the infection will progress to the latent stage of disease.

Latent (hidden) syphilis: The signs of the disease may go away, but the disease is present in the body. Syphilis can remain latent for many years.

Tertiary syphilis: Also termed as late-stage syphilis, tertiary syphilis may occur many years after the original infection. The infection has already spread all over the body and can affect the brain, heart, spinal cord and bones. Symptoms vary depending on which organ is infected and affected.

Congenital syphilis: A pregnant syphilis infected woman may pass on the infection through the placenta to the child during fetal development or delivery which is referred to as congenital syphilis. If the infected pregnant woman is not treated before 18th week of pregnancy, the child is most likely to be affected with congenital syphilis. Some babies with congenital syphilis have no symptoms at birth but develop them in a few weeks if not treated immediately. As a precautionary measure, syphilis screening tests (VDRL, RPR, FTA-ABS) has been made a routine part of prenatal care during pregnancy.

Jarisch Herxheimer Reaction: A temporary reaction to penicillin treatment for syphilis that manifests in the form of fever, chills and skin rash or chancre.

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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: November 11, 2019