Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by Treponema pallidum bacteria. This STD is relatively rare among heterosexuals, but occurs much more frequently among gays, and people with backgrounds of countries outside of Europe.
It is very important to treat the disease as soon as possible after diagnosis. Treatment is usually with antibiotics. If untreated, syphilis might eventually cause damage to the brain, heart and joints. Since syphilis is considered a dangerous disease, one has to provide information about his former sex partners.
Syphilis is usually transmitted during an unprotected sexual contact, through mucous membranes, or small wounds on the skin. The diseases is transmited during any form of sex, i.e. vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex. It is estimated that the risk of syphilis infection through an unprotected sexual intercourse is about 30-50%.
Contaminated blood by intravenous drug use is also a possible and rather common source of infection. The main risk groups for this disease are gays with frequent partner change, foreigners from countries outside of Europe, heterosexual men who have had sex with prostitutes from south-east Asian countries, prostitutes and drug users. Syhilis can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy, resulting in congenital syphilis.
Symptoms of syphilis
Syphilis is characterized by three distinctive stages with very different symptoms. The first two of those stages are especially important to be aware of:
The first stage is characterized by a so-called chancre, that is a small painless sore on or around the penis head, vagina, mouth, throat or anus. It appears approximately three weeks after infection. It is also common to have swollen and painless lymph nodes in the groin. However, these symptoms are experienced by only around 60-70% of the infected individuals. It means that one can infect other persons without knowing it. A chancre usually disappears within 6 weeks to 6 months.
The second stage of syphilis infection consists of an infectious active phase with or without symptoms, and a latent phase without symptoms. During the active phase one feels very sick: fever, large swollen lymphnodes throughout the body, and almost any organ can be involved – which means that it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose this particular disease. The most specific symptom that may occur is warty sores on or around the penis head, vagina or anus. The latent phase of syphilis does not show any symptoms. However, the infected person is still highly contagious.
The third stage starts after a long time and only if the disease is not treated. It may take up to 30 years after infection before the third stage actually occurs. It is characterized by various symptoms in either brain, heart or joints – or all together. The third stage of syphilis occurs in approximately 30 percent of those who did not receive treatment in time. In the past, before before antibiotics were invented, syphilis often resulted in paralysis, psychosis, brain damage, heart failure and various deforming injuries to face, cartilage tissue and joints.
The infection is suspected if you have syphilis symptoms and/or have had sex with persons at risk. The doctor will check if you have a chancre, and a blood test. It is also possible to purchase a rapid test for syphilis here – that is especially recommended for gays and men who have sex with prostitutes. You should also consider testing for other sexually transmitted diseases, that frequently occur alongside syphilis: gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis B and chlamydia.
Syphilis is very easy to treat, however, that depends on a stage of this disease. In most cases, penicillin is used, but other antibiotics may be prescribed if one is allergic to penicillin. You should never, under any circumstances, attempt to treat the disease on your own, without consulting a doctor first. It is important that you let your doctor test you before and after treatment is completed. This needs to be done to make sure you are cured.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease, which means that the most important mean of precaution is using a condom during sex. You should also avoid frequent change of sex partners and sex with persons from risk groups.