Symptoms and Treatment
What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that’s caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through close contact with the skin of someone who has the disease (this includes from mother to baby during childbirth). Similar to genital herpes, the syphilis bacteria can lie dormant in your body for decades before becoming active again. When syphilis is caught early, it can be cured with a single injection of penicillin. If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems — some of which are life-threatening. Individuals with syphilis are also more susceptible to contracting HIV — in fact, having one or the other makes you more susceptible to giving or receiving these infections. The sores from syphilis provide a natural entry point for HIV to enter the body, while HIV impairs the immune system in ways that make it easier for the syphilis bacteria to enter the body.
What are the symptoms of syphilis?
Syphilis develops in many different stages. And although the stages may overlap, symptoms associated with them don’t always happen in the same order. The early stage of syphilis usually produces a single small and painless sore — which appears at the spot where the bacteria entered your body. These sores are called chancres, and they typically develop around three weeks after being exposed to the bacteria. It’s easy to miss chancres because they’re painless and typically heal on their own within a couple of weeks. And sometimes, swelling will occur in nearby lymph nodes.
If you don’t receive treatment, syphilis will progress into the second stage of the infection, called secondary syphilis. During this time, you may experience a non-itchy rash that will begin on your torso and eventually spread to the hands and feet. Still, it’s easy to miss this rash because it doesn’t pose any significant physical discomfort and heals on its own. In this case, symptoms will go away — often not returning for years. After this stage, known as the latent stage, if treatment isn’t provided, the infection will progress to tertiary, or late syphilis — which can cause severe damage to your brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.
Congenital syphilis refers to babies born to women who have the infection. Babies can become infected with syphilis through the placenta or during childbirth. Although some newborns will experience a rash on the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet, it’s not uncommon for newborns with congenital syphilis to experience no symptoms at all. Later symptoms, however, may involve deafness, teeth deformities, and saddle-nose (where the bridge of the nose collapses).
How does ID Care diagnose syphilis?
ID Care specialists can make an accurate syphilis diagnosis through blood tests that will confirm whether or not your body is producing specific antibodies to fight the syphilis infection. These tests also allow our team to determine whether your infection is current or was contracted in the past.
How does ID Care treat syphilis?
Fortunately, syphilis is cured quickly with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed and treated in the early stages. It’s also important to remember to practice safe sex. Use a latex condom correctly, be sure to communicate with your partner about both of your experiences with sexually transmitted diseases, and get tested regularly.