Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the spiral bacteria called Treponema pallidum. Syphilis consists of three main stages, primary stage, secondary stage, and latent stage. The latent stage may lead to a final stage called the tertiary stage.
There are many cures to syphilis, and it is virtually eliminated from todays society. There are a few ways to contract the disease, all of which can be prevented.
The primary stage of syphilis is characterized by a small lesion, called a chancre, which resembles a pimple, blister or open sore. This occurs anytime between nine days and three months after infection. Fluid from the chancre is extremely infectious, but usually painless. Normally it appears on the genitals or near where the bacteria entered the body. It often hides and many people never realize that it is there. On women, the sore can be found hidden in the vagina or the folds of the labia. On men, it usually hides in the folds of the foreskin, under the scrotum, or near the base of the penis. Men more often than women will also have swollen lymph nodes in the groin. At this stage, the chancre is very infectious. It will heal with or without treatment, but the bacteria will remain and begin to spread if untreated.
In the secondary stage, occurring about six weeks later, a generalized rash appears. It can last for weeks or months, perhaps up to a year. Painless ulcers develop in the mouth. Most people discover raised areas around the genitals or anus. The bacteria can be easily spread through mucous patches on the raised areas, which are called condylomalata. Flu-like symptoms start to occur, and can come and go for years. These symptoms may include a rash (over entire body or just on palms of hands and soles of feet), a sore in the mouth, swollen and painful joints, aching bones, and a mild fever or headache. These symptoms usually disappear in 3 to 12 weeks. Some people even experience hair loss during the secondary stage of syphilis.
The disease then enters a latent stage in which no outward signs or symptoms occur, however, the bacteria are active inside your body, multiplying and attacking internal organs. The latent stage can last from 20 to 30 years. When second stage symptoms completely disappear, the disease is no longer infectious. At this point, the “rule of thirds” comes into play. Among the total number of latent syphilis cases, one-third will go away on their own, one-third will stabilize, and one-third of the cases will evolve to the next and last stage. When the final stage, tertiary syphilis, does occur, it could be fatal. It may produce hard nodules, called gummas, in the tissues under the skin, the mucous membranes, and the internal organs. The bones are also affected, as well as the liver, kidney, and other visceral organs. Infection of the heart and major blood vessels accounts for most of the syphilis related deaths.
A special kind of syphilis, which occurs in nearly 15 percent of the tertiary cases, is called neurosyphilis. It causes lack of muscular coordination, loss of urinary control, and degeneration of the reflexes. It also may cause pregnancy problems, including miscarriage, stillbirth, or to the birth of a child with congenital syphilis. Infected children often have typical signs, such as high forehead, saddlenose, and peg-shaped teeth.
Syphilis can be diagnosed and treated with relative ease. Because of this, the past twenty-five years or so have seen a marked decline in the number of tertiary stage cases of syphilis and of deaths due to the disease. Syphilis is mostly treated by an injection of penicillin, or by a two-week regimen of tetracycline. Two follow-up blood tests two weeks apart from the initial test and two weeks apart from each other are needed to ensure the treatment was effective. The first three stages of syphilis are completely curable, and even in the last stage syphilis can be stopped. With the present medical technology to diagnose and treat syphilis, there is no excuse for anyone in the U.S. to suffer the last stage of syphilis.
Alternatives to penicillin are necessary because many people are allergic to penicillin and in some people it is not effective in treating syphilis. Early detection of syphilis disables the disease completely. In pregnant women, early detection of the infection can reduce the chances of the fetus becoming infected.
Syphilis is sexually a transmitted disease, and is usually transmitted by sexual contact or kissing. The way it infects is from the secretions emitted from the sores, and the bacterium gets into small tears or cuts on the genitalia. Unlike AIDS, infection from contaminated objects is rare, because drying quickly kills the organisms. You cannot obtain syphilis from casual hugging, or from toilet seats in dirty bathrooms. The way you can prevent contraction of syphilis is to use a condom, or sustain from sexual activity all together. If you do see any early signs of syphilis, contact a doctor right away, and it can almost certainly be cured in the primary and early secondary stages.
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