Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted disease caused by a bacteria known as Treponema pallidum. It is a highly infectious disease and can be transmitted from one person to another through any kind of sexual contact – oral, vaginal or anal. It can also be transmitted from a mother who is already suffering from syphilis to her baby in the womb.
Stages of syphilis and their symptoms:
The symptoms of this sexually-transmitted disease vary according to the stages. However, they are nearly same in men and women. The symptoms take about three months to show after the initial infection, and it becomes difficult to make out as they are no different than the symptoms of other sexually transmitted diseases.
I) Primary stage of syphilis:
The primary and the secondary stages of this sexually-transmitted disease are considered to be the most infectious stages of syphilis. The first thing that one can notice in the first stage of this sexually-transmitted diseases is chancres (commonly known as ulcers). Although they are painless, they are highly infectious, and usually found at the place from where the syphilis bacteria entered the body. The common parts where one can find these ulcers are:
- In men- on the penis.
- In women- outside the vagina on vulva or near the opening of the cervix.
- In both men and women these ulcers are usually found around the anus or mouth.
If these chancres are left untreated, they may progress and take the disease to the secondary stage. Without any treatment, they take nearly two to six weeks to heal.
II) Secondary stage of syphilis:
The secondary stage usually shows up after three to six weeks after the chancres are seen. The symptoms change with the secondary stage, and they may be as follows:
- Fever, lethargy, tiredness and loss of appetite
- Swollen glands
- Growth of warts near vulva in women and around anus in both the sexes
- Hair loss, but in patches
- White patches in the mouth, on the tongue
If an infected person comes in contact with other person during this stage, the infection can easily be transmitted to the other person, as secondary stage is considered to be highly infectious. Although the symptoms of this sexually-transmitted disease may go away within a few weeks, they may keep occurring over the years.
III) Latent stage:
If syphilis is left untreated during the first two stages, it can progress to the third stage or the latent stage. Although there are no particular symptoms experienced during this stage, the health of the patient may keep deteriorating. The diagnosis can still be done with the help of a blood test.
IV) Tertiary stage:
Symptomatic late syphilis or tertiary stage is the final stage of syphilis, which usually develops after more than 10 years. It has serious repercussions, as it can affect the nervous system or the cardiac system. The damage caused to the heart or nervous system during this stage is irreversible. So, it’s good to start the treatment early in this stage, as this sexually-transmitted disease can be cured, if the damage is not yet done.
The common causes that lead to the infectious disease, syphilis are:
- When a person comes in sexual contact with an already infected person.
- Indulging in unprotected sex.
- Men are more vulnerable to falling prey to this disease than women.
- Men and women between the age of 15 and 39 are more prone to syphilis.
- Being a man, having sexual relations with a man.
- A child born to a mother who already suffers from syphilis is likely to fall prey to the disease.
- Having multiple sexual partners.
Medically, the highly infectious sexually-transmitted disease – syphilis is difficult to diagnose during its early stage. It can either be diagnosed through a blood test, or by examining fluid samples under microscope. The genitals too are examined. For women who are suffering from this sexually-transmitted disease, doctors may suggest internal examination to check for the sores.
The patient suffering from syphilis can be treated with antibiotics, or can be given injections of penicillin. However, it is better to stick to the age old adage: prevention is better than cure. And like other sexually-transmitted diseases, syphilis too can be prevented by having safe sex through the use of condoms.