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), chances of contracting Syphilis are high.

A sexually transmitted disease (STD), Syphilis is a highly contagious infection caused by bacteria Treponema pallidum, that 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 upto 3 weeks to manifest in the body. A painless sore (known as 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 on the genitals, anus, rectum or the 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 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 while that affecting the eyes in called Ocular Syphilis.

Congenital 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 nose etc. The baby might be born premature, die soon after birth or be stillborn.

Risk factors

  • 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 same linen, utensils, bath tubs, toilets etc.

Syphilis Blood Test

A blood test can diagnose the infection. In certain cases, 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 sexual partner(s) that may have come in contact in the past one year, is also, essential to prevent further transmissions.

Syphilis Treatment

Injection Penicillin is the treatment of choice. For those people allergic to Penicillin , other antibiotics like doxycycline are prescribed.

Early Syphilis Blood Test and Syphilis treatment leads to full cure in vast majority of the cases.

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Dr Nidhi M Jhamb

Dr Nidhi is a homoeopathic physician by profession who believes in a holistic approach towards healing. She loves to solve Sudoku puzzles and relaxes by dancing her worries away. Her passion is to write medical content in very simple language that anyone can easily understand.

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