Syphilis is a bacterial infection usually transmitted through sexual contact. The disease starts with a painless wound in the genitals, the rectum or the mouth and develops in stages , affecting everyone who comes in direct contact with the ulcers it causes on the skin and the mucous membranes.
After the initial infection the bacterium of syphilis can remain inert for several decades before it activates. Syphilis in early stages is curable and many times an injectable dose on penicillin will suffice. If it is not treated it can cause severe damage to the heart, the brain and other organs even threaten the life of the patient.
Syphilis progresses in stages and its symptoms vary with its stage. Sometimes the stage may coincide and the symptoms will not manifest in the same order.
Primary syphilis. The first sign of syphilis is a small sore also called chancre and it appears on the very spot where the bacterium entered the body. Although many manifest one sore others manifest more. It usually occurs about three to four weeks after a person contracts the bacteria. Many patients fail to notice it because most of the times it is painless and hidden inside the vagina or the rectum . The sore heals by itself within 6 weeks.
Secondary syphilis. Within a few weeks from the healing of the initial sore a rash may develop initially on the trunk and then on the whole body even on the palms and soles. This rash is usually itchy less and may be accompanied by lesions looking like warts inside the mouth or in the genital area. Some patients also manifest muscle aches, fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms can subside completely within a few weeks and relapse many times during one year.
Latent syphilis. If the patient receives no treatment then the disease progresses from the secondary to the latent phase, where there are no symptoms. This stage can last for years. The symptoms may never reappear but the disease can move to the tertiary stage.
Tertiary syphilis. Almost 15-30% of the patients who do not don’t receive treatment for syphilis manifest complications which in the final stages of the disease may harm the brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and the joints. These problems may manifest many years after the initial infection. Depending on its location the diseases takes the corresponding name the most characteristic being cardiovascular syphilis, neurosyphilis and syphilis of the bones.
Congenital syphilis. Babies born from mothers infected by syphilis is possible to be infected through the placenta or during the delivery. Most infants with congenital syphilis are asymptomatic although some of them manifest rash on the palms and soles. If the disease progresses it can cause deafness and malformations on the teeth and nose.
Cause of syphilis is a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. The most common transmission channel of the disease is trough contact with a patients chancre. The bacterium enters the body through minor wounds or cuts that are on the skin or the mucous membranes.
Syphilis is contagious in its primary and secondary stage and sometimes at the beginning of the latent phase. It is not generally possible to contract syphilis through toilet seats, daily activities, hot tubs, or sharing eating utensils or clothing. In case of a cure there is always the possibility of recontamination if the cured comes in contact anew with a foreign source of syphilis.
Factors that can favor the transmission of syphilis are:
- Sexual intercourse without protection.
- Multiple sexual partners.
- Sexual intercourse between men.
- HIV infection, which causes Aids.
If syphilis is not cured it can cause severe damage to the whole body. It increases the danger of contracting HIV while it threatens women with serious problems during pregnancy. The treatment may prevent future damages but it can not repair or reverse damages already occuring.
- Small papules. These may develop on the skin, the bones, the liver or any other organ in the final stages of the disease. These papule are eliminated by an antibiotics treatment.
- Neurological problems. Syphilis can cause a series of problems in the nervous system such as a stroke, meningitis, deafness, vision disturbances and dementia. .
- Cardiovascular problems. It can cause aneurysm and inflammation of the aorta as well as in other blood vessels. Syphilis can cause damages in the heart’s valves.
- HIV infection. It is calculated that adults with sexually transmitted syphilis have 2 to 5 times more possibilities to be infected by HIV virus. A syphilis chancre bleeds easily creating a channel for the HIV virus to enter the blood stream during sexual intercourse.
- Complications during pregnancy and childbirth. If a woman is pregnant then she can transmit syphilis to her unborn baby. Congenital syphilis dramatically increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death.
If syphilis is diagnosed and treated in its early stages it is easy to be cured. Penicillin is the preferred treatment in all of its stages, an antibiotic that kills the organism causing syphilis. If the patient is allergic to Penicillin another antibiotic can be used.
A simple Penicillin injection can stop the progress of the disease if the patient was infected within the last year. μπορεί να σταματήσει την πρόοδο της νόσου αν ο ασθενής έχει μολυνθεί μέσα στον τελευταίο χρόνο. Otherwise more doses may be needed.
Penicillin is the only recommended treatment for pregnant women suffering from syphilis. Those who are allergic to Penicillin can undergo desensitization, which will allow them to receive the medicine without side effects. In case if a pregnant receives syphilis treatment antibiotics must also be administered to the baby.
On the first day of administration the patient is likely to manifest a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. Symptoms include fever, ague, nausea, acute pain and headaches. This reaction usually does not last for more than 24 hours.
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