How Do I Know If I Have Syphilis?
If you are sexually active, had unprotected exposure with one or multiple partners, and have unusual eruptions on the skin (mainly genitals), the chances of contracting Syphilis are high.
A sexually transmitted disease (STD), Syphilis is a highly contagious infection caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum, which spreads through contact with the sores of an infected individual. This contact is usually sexual but could also be direct contact through skin or mucous membranes or mother-to-child transmission through pregnancy. Syphilis has a wide range of symptoms depending on its stage and thus, a thorough examination by a doctor is essential for diagnosis.
- Primary Syphilis: After exposure to the infected sore, the disease may take up to 3 weeks to manifest in the body. A painless sore (known as a chancre) is usually, the first symptom of syphilis, that occurs on the site of infection i.e. from the site where the bacteria has entered the body. Thus, these chancres occur mainly in the genitals, anus, rectum, or mouth. Since they are usually small and painless, they may go unnoticed and also, heal without treatment within 3 to 6 weeks. However, treatment is necessary to prevent the progression of the disease to the later stages.
- Secondary Syphilis: A few weeks after the self-healing of chancre occurs, a rosy, reddish-brown rash may appear on the trunk, palms, soles, or other parts of the body. The rash may be accompanied by fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or moist eruptions on the groin, mouth, vagina, rectum, or anus. Other associated symptoms may include hair loss, weight loss, sore throat, headaches, etc. This stage also weans off on its own but treatment is again, advisable to prevent progression to further stages.
- Latent Syphilis: This is the dormant stage where the disease stays hidden inside the body and could last for many years. Though asymptomatic, the infection might be damaging the internal organs of the body and lead to the tertiary stage.
- Tertiary Syphilis: Untreated syphilis may lead to some life-threatening complications such as damage to the heart, brain, nerves, bones, or joints. It may lead to blindness, paralysis, deafness, memory loss, or even death. Syphilis specifically damaging the nervous system i.e. brain or spinal cord is known as Neurosyphilis and that affects the eyes is called Ocular Syphilis.
Mothers infected with Syphilis may pass on the infection to their babies during pregnancy or delivery, known as congenital syphilis. Such newborns may have developmental issues, teeth deformities, seizures, saddle noses, etc. The baby might be born premature, die soon after birth, or be stillborn.
- Unprotected vaginal, oral or anal exposure with an infected person
- exposure with multiple partners
- Man-to-man sexual contact
- Direct contact with the infected lesions.
- Mother-to-child transmission
It does not spread through using the same linen, utensils, bathtubs, toilets, etc.
Syphilis Blood Test
A blood test can diagnose the infection. In certain cases, a swab test of the lesion or a urine test may be done. A Cerebrospinal Fluid test may be done in cases of neurosyphilis.
Once confirmed, testing of the sexual partner(s) that may have come in contact in the past year, is also, essential to prevent further transmissions.
Injection of Penicillin is the treatment of choice. For those people allergic to Penicillin, other antibiotics like doxycycline are prescribed.
Early Syphilis Blood tests and Syphilis treatment lead to a full cure in the vast majority of the cases.