Characteristics of syphilis

This article was endorsed by Callista Emecheta - Medical Doctor and Writer

What is syphilis?

Syphilis  is an infection caused by a bacteria, the spirochete Treponema pallidum.

It is a disease usually transmitted through sexual contact (sexually transmitted disease). Pregnant woman can transmit it to their children. It can also be transmitted through blood transfusions.

Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. In the past it had high prevalence, since it appeared in Europe in the fifteenth century and mainly spread during the sixteenth century. From this century until the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the mercury-based treatments were ineffective. From the First World War it began to be cured with bismuth and arsenic. With the subsequent discovery and use of antibiotics cases dropped dramatically.

However, syphilis has never been eradicated and has resurfaced stronger in recent years due to increased drug use. Needle sharing and a greater promiscuity without adequate protection has led to its growth.. There is no doubt that the importance given to infection by AIDS, has lead to “lowering the guard” against other sexual diseases like syphilis.

Whom does syphilis affect?

Syphilis can affect anyone of any age but it is most common in people who have more frequent sex with different people, regardless of sexual orientation. The largest proportion of patients is higher in large cities, particularly in people from 15 to 40 years.

It is a disease that, if properly diagnosed and treated in its early stages, it is cured completely without causing complications.

Causes of syphilis

Syphilis, as mentioned above, is caused by infection with the spirochete Treponema pallidum. There are three routes of transmission:

  • Intimacy route: The main route of infection. It is caused by sexual contact involving a sick person’s injuries with wounds or mucous membranes of healthy people.The probability of contagion through this route is very elevated. It is estimated that a healthy person who gets in contact with another person suffering from syphilis has between 35 and 50 percent chance of contracting the disease.
  • Mother to child (congenital syphilis): A type of transmission that occurs between a mother infected with syphilis and the fetus, from the fourth month of pregnancy. Amniotic fluid from an infected mother penetrates through the placenta or the fetus is contaminated at birth when being in direct contact with the “birth canal.
  • Blood infection: This type of transmission occurs when infected blood from a sick person comes in contact with the blood of a healthy person. This usually occurs when sharing needles and can be done through a blood transfusion with contaminated blood. The latter case is very rare, both because donated blood is strictly analyzed and because the bacterium Treponema pallidum lives very little in stored blood outside the body (24 hours or so).
  • Infection with contaminated material: There is very little chance of transmission through infected objects such as towels, pillows, sheets, etc, given the low resistance of the bacteria in contact with air.

Symptoms of syphilis

The first symptoms of infection usually appear within 20 days after the occurrence of infection, although the incubation period can vary between 10 and 90 days. The disease if not properly treated, will evolve in four phases, in which symptoms may not exist or be different in each of these phases.

Prevention of syphilis

More information

Diagnosis and treatment of syphilis

It is very important to see a doctor when there are symptoms that could indicate the presence of this disease or when one is in doubt of its possible existence because one has maintained an unsafe relation.

The diagnosis of syphilis is a consultation by the physician on the patient’s sexual activity and its possible relationship with risk groups. Later, there will be a visual inspection to detect the possible presence of sores or other skin reactions.

Syphilis is diagnosed by taking a sample of skin lesions and analyzing it under a microscope to detect the presence of the bacteria causing this disease. Another more accurate way is through blood tests (a series of tests such as VDRL, RPR will show the presence of antigens in the blood). If these tests are positive, others antigenic determinants are used to rule out other possible diseases that produce similar symptoms and confirm the previous diagnosis. (FTA-ABS or MHA-TP)

The treatment involves the use of antibiotics. In general, penicillin is used; for patients allergic to this medication, they are other drugs such as erythromycin. When treatment is finished, the patient is subjected to a series of checks for a couple of years to ensure that there has not been a resurgence of the disease, in which case they would continue with the application of antibiotics.

More information on syphilis.

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

30 June, 2020

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