Syphilis is a bacterial and contagious infection condition that is usually spread through sexual contact and must be treated. You can find more information below.

What is syphilis (syphilis)?

Syphilis , or syphilis , is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. Untreated syphilis can last for years and cause permanent damage, such as affecting the brain and blood vessels.

The disease is gradual. Symptoms may vary depending on the stage and may only be mild so that in some cases the disease goes unnoticed. Since syphilis can be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin , especially in the early stages , it should be recognized and treated early.

Therefore, it is important to know the symptoms of the disease and see a doctor if you suspect that you are sick.

Syphilis is not a rare disease. For example, 7,178 cases of syphilis were reported in Germany in 2016, and this trend is rising. This corresponds to a case number of 8.7 per 100,000 people.

Syphilis is much more common in men than women. The group at high risk of the disease includes men who have sex with men. Syphilis is also common in people infected with HIV .

What causes syphilis and how is it transmitted?

In infected people, the bacteria are found in bodily fluids, mucous membranes, and blood. Infection is usually caused by sexual contact (eg, vaginal, anal, oral intercourse).

The pathogen can penetrate the body through small wounds on the skin or mucous membranes. The risk of developing syphilis after unprotected sex with a person suffering from syphilis is about 30%.

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The possibility of transmission from infected needles or other objects is extremely rare. In the case of a blood transfusion, transmission by blood transfusion is also extremely rare, as the blood undergoes many tests.

Such a transmission has not been known in Turkey for over years. During pregnancy, syphilis can be transmitted to the unborn child through the mother’s placenta. Then a congenital syphilis is mentioned.

Who is at risk?

The risk of syphilis is higher if:

  • having unprotected sex
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Having other sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
  • Men who have intercourse with their fellows

Syphilis (syphilis) stages and symptoms

Syphilis occurs in several stages that can last months to years with little or no symptoms. The stages have characteristic signs.

It should also be noted that about half of infections are completely symptomless. In this case, the disease can spread unnoticed. About 30% of untreated syphilis cases heal spontaneously.

First stage and its symptoms

In the first stage of the disease, there is a nodule the size of a millet grain at the entry point of the affected area (vagina, anus, penis, etc.). This then begins to harden and forms a painless scar.

This hard formation appears about 10 days to 10 weeks after infection, and usually about 3 weeks afterward. In 70-80% of those affected, adjacent lymph nodes are enlarged but painless. This condition usually improves within 4-6 weeks.

The fluid that comes out of the wound contains bacterial pathogens that can be detected with a swab. Serological tests that detect antibodies to the pathogen are usually positive.

This confirms that the person concerned has come into contact with the pathogen. However, the outcome depends on the course of the disease over time and may initially be negative. The test may need to be repeated after two weeks.

Second stage and its symptoms

If syphilis is not treated in the first stage, the bacteria can spread through the bloodstream over the next weeks and months, causing various symptoms in the secondary stage.

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For this reason, syphilis is also called the medical chameleon. Affected individuals may have cold symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, joint or muscle pain .

This condition may be accompanied by swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body. Later, a rash may appear and swell all over the body, typically on the inside of the hands and feet.

Wart-like changes called condylomata lata may occur in the vagina, penis or rectum area .

In the secondary stage, patients are highly contagious. Serological tests usually have a positive result. Symptoms may resolve without treatment within 6 months of initial infection.

latent syphilis

If there are no symptoms, it is called latent syphilis . However, the blood test remains positive. One or two years after infection, early latent and then late latent syphilis is mentioned. The latent stage can last from a few months to several years.

Third stage and its symptoms

Latent syphilis can cause symptoms again one to several years later. If not treated beforehand, the risk of this happening is around 30%.

This stage, called late syphilis, is usually divided into a tertiary and quaternary stage. Often thanks to early treatment, these stages are extremely rare.

In tertiary syphilis, rubbery tumors can form on the skin or other organs. Blood vessels can be affected by syphilis, causing aneurysms. These can burst ( aneurysm rupture ), causing life-threatening bleeding.

One of the most serious forms of syphilis is neurosyphilis . At this stage, feverish pains in the abdomen and legs, sensory disturbances, seizures, mental disorders and dementia may occur.

HIV infection and syphilis (syphilis)

The mucosal wound, which mostly occurs in the primary stage of syphilis, supports infection with the HIV virus. Therefore, effective protection with condoms is particularly important.

If an HIV infection was already present prior to infection with the syphilis pathogen, syphilis may take a more severe course. A pre-existing HIV disease can get worse due to syphilis.

Related article: All about HIV-AIDS

Diagnosis of syphilis (syphilis)

The doctor will likely first listen to the person’s health history and then perform a physical examination. If a syphilis infection is suspected, blood is usually drawn and testing is done.

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Serological tests can be used to detect antibodies in the blood, which indicates the presence or contact of the pathogen.

Sometimes the pathogen can also be detected with a swab of wound fluid. If the serological test or other tests are positive, treatment is started as soon as possible.

Syphilis (syphilis) treatment

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotic therapy. If an organ damage has already occurred, the existing organ damage can no longer be healed. Penicillin is usually injected intramuscularly or, if severe, administered intravenously. If patients are allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics may be given.

Some patients react with the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction , which can occur several hours after antibiotics are given for treatment . This creates an inflammatory reaction of dead bacterial components.

Symptoms include fever, chills, tiredness, headache or muscle pain . In this case, antibiotic treatment is continued as there is no allergy to the antibiotic. However, affected patients should be monitored regularly.

Precautions for syphilis (syphilis)

Since syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease, sexual intercourse should be avoided until the treatment is finished. Your doctor can provide information about when sexual intercourse is possible without the risk of transmission.

It is also important to inform previous sexual partners about the disease. To treat a possible infection early, partners should also be checked for syphilis.

Condoms offer very good protection to prevent syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. They significantly reduce the risk of transmission, but do not fully protect against syphilis. You should also talk to your doctor if you want to be tested for other sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV).

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