When you consider syphilis, do you assume it is an STI of the past?
Let me fill you in on this STI that is making a resurgence.
Here are some fast facts from the CDC…
- For you scientists out there, it is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.
- About 55,000 people report having syphilis each year.
- Currently, the highest rates are found in men 20-29 years old.
- In 2012, 75% of all first and second stage syphilis has been reported in MSM (men who have sex with men).
- Typically found in racial and ethnic minorities.
- Excluding the MSM population, black males have the highest rate of primary and secondary syphilis. (Different types of syphilis are described below.)
- Congenital syphilis (syphilis passed on to a newborn at birth) has risen in the past two years from 162 to 322 cases. These numbers were higher among black and hispanic infants.
- Because it is a bacterial infection, it can be treated, especially during the first and second stages of the disease.
- Symptoms look like a lot of other diseases and tend to go away on their own, therefore people may not get tested. However, the bacteria continue to lurk in the body.
There are four stages of syphilis with distinct signs and symptoms in each stage.
Primary Stage: The first stage.
- It takes about 21 days to 3 months to show the first symptoms.
- One or more chancres, or sores, will develop. Typically they are seen in the rectum, on the vagina, anus, or penis.
- They can also be found on the lips and mouth.
- The chancres don’t hurt, and only last about 3-6 weeks before they just disappear.
- Chancres may not be easy to see.
- However, these sores cause the spread of the disease during sexual activity.
Symptoms may be gone…..but not forgotten……
because if it is not treated by simple antibiotics, it moves on to ….
Secondary Stage: The second stage.
- A red or brownish rash may appear on the palms of the hands or skin…or it may not even be visible. Other rashes may appear as well, but might look very similar to other illnesses.
- The person may also have symptoms a lot like the flu: fever, muscle aches, sore throat, headaches, and fatigue, for example.
- A person may also find sores showing up on their mucous membranes such as the mouth, vagina, or anus.
- These symptoms will disappear after a while.
However, the disease is still lurking….
Symptoms may be gone….but not forgotten……
because if it is not treated with simple antibiotics, it moves on to….
The Latent Stage: The Third Stage
- The person is infected and does not know it – or believes they are no longer ill – because there are no obvious signs or symptoms – it is latent – just sort of hanging around, quietly doing damage.
- Depending on when a person was infected, they may have “early” or “late” latent syphilis.
Symptoms may be gone…..but not forgotten…..
because if it’s not treated with simple antibiotics, it moves on to…..
The Late Stages
- Can appear as long as two decades after being infected in about 15% of untreated individuals.
- Damage occurs to internal organs, such as the brain, eyes, liver, heart, etc.
- With that damage, the individual may experience numbness, blindness, paralysis, and/or…
Need I say more?
Pregnant women should be tested for syphilis, and again after delivery. Babies born to to women with untreated syphilis may have one of many different and very serious health problems. To learn more, click here:
Syphilis and Pregnancy: CDC
Is it preventable?
Why yes, yes it is!
As with any STI, follow these recommendations to eliminate or decrease your odds of getting syphilis.
- Abstinence. That will eliminate the risk.
- Monogamous relationship – both of you. But you must tested before your first sexual encounter.
- PROPER and CONSISTENT use of latex condoms and/or dental dams. (Remember, birth control pills are to decrease your risk of pregnancy – they do nothing to prevent STI’s.)
- If your partner has tested positive for syphilis, then you should be tested as well.
- Even if you have been treated for it once before, you can still get it again.
- Testing is simple: a blood test or a fluid sample from the chancre.
Franz Shubert. He died from Mercury poisoning which was used as treatment for syphilis back in the day. Don’t modern-day antibiotics sound a LOT easier?
If you want to know more, you can explore this resource more thoroughly: Syphilis: The CDC.
BE SAFE. BE TESTED. BE TREATED.