Syphilis: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Syphilis Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis, one of the oldest known sexually transmitted infections, once believed to be on the decline but is now experiencing a concerning resurgence. Caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, syphilis has an incubation period of two to four weeks, or potentially up to three months.

While the disease is treatable, if left untreated, it can pose dangers to various body systems, including the circulatory and nervous systems. Additionally, pregnant women with syphilis can transmit the infection to their unborn children, resulting in congenital syphilis.

The infection progresses through stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary, each with different signs and symptoms.

Symptoms and Stages of syphilis

How does it spread

Syphilis can be transmitted through direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby. It cannot transmit through casual contact with objects, such as toilet seats, doorknobs, swimming pools, hub tubs, sharing clothes etc.

Symptoms and Stages of syphilis

Symptoms of syphilis may not become visible until its later stages, during which significant impacts on the body may already be occurring. It can be mild in the beginning, making it challenging to be noticed even as it evolves over time and may exhibit periods of repetition.

Stages of syphilis include:

Primary syphilis

In the primary stage of the syphilis you may notice sores which are also called chancre, it can appear anywhere on your body. This symptom is painless and it develops and lives hidden at the site where the bacteria entered your body. Normally people mistake the chancre as a pimple, an ingrown hair or harmless bumps which can be the cause for the infection during the sex to the other people. And because the sores aren’t painful and can live in hidden places, you may not notice them.

It usually occurs in or around the area. While some individuals may develop only one chancre, others may experience multiple sores. Normally the areas that develops chancre:

  • Lips or mouth
  • Anal area
  • Genital area

The sores can heal on their own in about 3 to 6 weeks, but you can still spread syphilis to others if you do not get proper treatment. In its early stage, it can be cured with medication quite reliably. However, if left untreated, it can progress to a secondary stage of syphilis.

Secondary syphilis

The secondary stage is often identified by a skin rash. This rash may occur while the initial chancre is healing or a few weeks after it has been healed.

The symptoms of secondary syphilis are:

  • Rashes develop on palms of hands and soles of feet. It may look rough, red, or reddish-brown or maybe so faint that it’s hard to see
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Hair Loss
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches

Without treatment, these symptoms may go away on their own, but the bacteria will still remain in your body and will progress to a next stage.

Latent syphilis

This is also called the hidden stage because you have no symptoms. Despite the absence of symptoms, the infection continues and develops within the body, posing an even greater risk as it may last for several years in this stage. While one might hope that symptoms will never come back, without treatment, the disease can lead to a tertiary stage.

Tertiary syphilis

Approximately 30% to 40% of individuals with syphilis who do not receive treatment may experience complications known as tertiary syphilis, also referred to as late stage syphilis. Tertiary syphilis can cause significant impacts on the body and its organs, which is life-threatening. These effects include:

  • Damage to bones and tissues,
  • Infections of the brain and spinal cord,
  • Mental health issues,
  • Loss of hearing and sight,
  • Strokes, meningitis, and heart diseases.

These problems may manifest many years after the original, untreated infection.

Test and Treatment

The primary method for diagnosing syphilis is through blood tests. The blood tests are specifically designed to identify syphilis antibodies produced by the body in response to the infection. If you observe any symptoms mentioned earlier, it is crucial to undergo syphilis testing to detect and treat the infection as early as possible, ideally before the onset of the latent stage.

Damage from later-stage syphilis cannot be reversed, emphasizing the need to promptly consult a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. For primary and secondary syphilis, doctors typically prescribe penicillin injections, and it is important for patients not to miss any scheduled appointments for these injections. In cases of penicillin allergy, an alternative antibiotic, such as doxycycline or ceftriaxone, can be used. Skipping medication doses can render the treatment ineffective, potentially progressing the patient into later stages of the disease.

Prevention Of Syphilis

  • Refrain from having multiple sexual partners and make sure that your current partner has undergone testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Avoid using recreational drugs and consuming excessive alcohol, as they can lead to risky behaviors that may result in contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Using a condom correctly during sexual intercourse can reduce the chances of getting syphilis.
  • If you are sexually active, it is advisable to have regular check-ups 1-2 times a year.
  • See a healthcare provider if you notice any abnormalities, such as a rash, sore, swelling, or unusual discharge.
  • Please note that cleaning the genital area promptly after sexual activity, both internally and externally, does not prevent syphilis.
Symptoms and Stages of syphilis

When to see a doctor

If you notice any symptoms or engage in unprotected sex, it is recommended to see a doctor for a consultation. Remember that while syphilis is dangerous, it can be effectively treated with the right medication. You should not hesitate to share your sexual history with the doctor; complete information will be beneficial to both the doctors and yourself. Your healthcare provider can help you assess your risk, take precautions, and make a plan to stay healthy.

Wellmed Clinic Support

While reading this article, if you suspect you may have encountered syphilis or if you have any sexual health concerns, feel free to get more information, or visit us for a proper consultation at Wellmed Bangkok Clinic. Our team can provide quick, safe, painless and confidential testing and treatment. Contact us via Line: @wellmed or give us a call at +66 61 787 4000.