Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It is a spirochete, which is a type of bacteria that has a spiral shape. Syphilis can be spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth.
Syphilis has four stages:
- Primary syphilis: This is the first stage of syphilis, and it usually occurs about 3 weeks after exposure. The first sign of primary syphilis is a small, painless sore called a chancre. The chancre usually appears on the genitals, but it can also appear in the mouth, rectum, or on the lips. The chancre usually heals on its own within 3 to 6 weeks, even without treatment.
- Secondary syphilis: This stage usually occurs 4 to 12 weeks after the chancre appears. The symptoms of secondary syphilis can vary widely, but they often include a rash, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. The rash can appear anywhere on the body, and it can be flat or raised. It can also be red, brown, or pink. Other symptoms of secondary syphilis can include hair loss, sore throat, mouth sores, and muscle aches. The symptoms of secondary syphilis usually go away on their own within 2 to 6 weeks, even without treatment. However, the infection is still present in the body.
- Latent syphilis: This stage of syphilis occurs when the symptoms of secondary syphilis have gone away. There are two types of latent syphilis: early latent syphilis and late latent syphilis. Early latent syphilis occurs within the first year of infection. Late latent syphilis occurs more than a year after infection. During the latent stage, the bacteria are still present in the body, but they do not cause any symptoms.
- Tertiary syphilis: This is the final and most serious stage of syphilis. It can occur many years after the initial infection. The symptoms of tertiary syphilis can vary widely, but they often include heart disease, brain damage, and blindness. Tertiary syphilis is a serious condition that can be fatal.
Syphilis can be diagnosed with a blood test. There is no cure for syphilis, but it can be treated with antibiotics. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent the infection from progressing to the later stages.
If you think you may have syphilis, it is important to see a doctor right away. Syphilis can be treated successfully, but it is important to get treatment as soon as possible to prevent complications.
Here are some ways to prevent syphilis:
- Get tested for STIs regularly.
- Use condoms during sex.
- Talk to your partner about their sexual history.
- Avoid having sex with people who have multiple partners.
- If you are pregnant, get tested for syphilis early in your pregnancy.