Syphilis Venereal Disease
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Sexually Transmitted Diseases
|Terminology: Syphilis is also known as bad blood, lues and pox.
What Is Syphilis?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is caught by having sex (vaginal, oral and anal) with an infected person. It is caused by a microscopic bacteria called Treponema pallidum. Syphilis is sometimes called the great imitator because the signs are so similar to those of other diseases. For several decades it looked like syphilis - a life-threatening STD - was no longer the scourge of humanity it had been for centuries. With the invention of penicillin it became possible to cure the disease in its early stages. This not only helped prevent a lot of deaths, but also halted the spread of the disease. However, syphilis is on the rise again with 40,000 cases reported to the CDC every year - the highest figures since 1949. In 2006 nearly 10,000 cases of the most contagious forms of the disease were reported. Much of this increase is due to the increasing amounts of heterosexual men and women being infected. Untreated syphilis can eventually lead to paralysis, dementia and even death.
The bacteria responsible for syphilis can enter your body by having sex with an infected person. It can also be incurred if fluid from a syphilitic sore or rash gets inside a cut on your skin. The chance of catching the disease after a single sexual encounter with an infected person is 30 percent. A person with the disease remains infectious for about 4 years after acquiring the STD but is particularly infectious in the initial stages when they have open sores or rashes.
Syphilis is a stages disease. There is the primary stage where an open sore emerges at the site of infection. The secondary stage starts 2 to 8 weeks later and may cause a rash on the body and flu-like symptoms. The final (tertiary) stage may only occur 10 or 20 years later and this is when manifestations of damage begin to appear - such as blindness, dementia and death.
Anyone with a sore in the genital area should attend an STD clinic for screening. A sample of pus from the sore will be collected and examined under a microscope. This can help differentiate syphilis from other venereal diseases like chlamydia and genital warts. Because sores on the genitals are associated with increased risk of HIV infection, you may also be offered a HIV test. If the bacteria has entered the bloodstream a simple blood test is another way to determine if you have antibodies associated with syphilis. There are more than 200 blood tests for syphilis, including:
Yes, syphilis is easily cured in its early stages with a single injection of penicillin. If the person has had the infection for longer than a year, additional injections will be needed. People who are allergic to penicillin and who are not pregnant can be given other antibiotics such as tetracycline, doxycycline or erythromycin. While treatment will kill the syphilis bacteria, it will not reverse any damage done to organs. The sooner it is treated, the better. A follow up blood test should be carried out every 3 months for at least 2 years to ensure the bacterium is destroyed. People treated in the latent stages of the disease require a follow up blood test every 6 months. Finally, no treatment is complete unless all sexual partners exposed to the disease are treated. Anyone exposed to the disease within a 90 period should be treated with antibiotics regardless if their test result is negative. Over 90 days only those who test positive need be treated.
Pregnant women should be given a penicillin injection before their 16th week if possible. If treatment starts any later the fetus may already be infected - but treatment should still be carried out to minimize damage to the fetus. A follow up blood test will be necessary every month for the rest of the pregnancy.
How Can Syphilis Be Prevented?
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For more health advice, see the following:
• Reproductive system disorders: List of gyno problems
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WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES