Syphilis is an STD that has been around for a very long time. Often symptoms can go unnoticed meaning long term repercussions may occur for those that are left untreated.
How is it passed on?
Syphilis is passed on through sexual contact. The infected person does not even need to be exhibiting symptoms to be infectious.
What are the symptoms?
In order to discuss symptoms it is important to understand that there are 3 types of syphilis; primary, secondary and tertiary.
Primary syphilis is classified as symptoms appearing around or on the genitals. Typically the presentation is a painless ulcer or ulcers. Painful ulcers are often associated with Chancroid or Herpes. Symptoms can persist for any length of time before disappearing. Even if symptoms disappear you are still infected until treatment has been given.
Secondary syphilis refers to symptoms that appear over the body. The most common sign is a blotchy, non-itchy rash that occurs over the body but most commonly over the hands and feet.
Tertiary syphilis is the hidden danger because it has no symptoms.
The important thing to remember is that syphilis may progress through the stages or it may skip, so it is entirely possible to be infected, skip straight to tertiary syphilis and exhibit no symptoms. This is why syphilis screening is so important.
What are the long term problems?
Approximately 25% of untreated syphilis can progress to neurosyphilis. This involves the brain which can be irreversible if left too late. And once symptoms start to show (change in behaviour/character/personality) it already is too late. The issue can be halted with treatment but the damage done is not reversible.
First line treatment is an injection of antibiotic. Usually this is all that is needed but we would perform 3 monthly blood tests to ensure the disease is disappearing. In cases where there is allergy to the main antibiotic or the disease is not fully treated by the injection then a month long course of oral tablets are used instead.
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