Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is highly infectious, so read on to find out the symptoms.

Syphilis is a bacterial disease that has existed for centuries, but treatment has only been available for the past 50 years. It is one of the the most destructive of all of the sexually transmitted diseases. The disease is spread primarily through sexual transmission or intimiate contact with an individual who has an open, wet syphilitic sore. Syphilis has three distinctive stages in an untreated person. This most severe of the STD's is caused by a bacteria called spirochete Treponema pallidum, which is shaped much like a corkscrew, so it is able to burrow through the skin quite well and get to almost any place in the body, eventually.

Symptoms of syphilis include: headache, fever, a single painless sore on the genitals during the first stage of the infection, aches, chills and swollen lymph nodes. During the first stage of the disease, there is a painless open sore called a chancre, which appears on the genitals within a few weeks after the infection is contracted. In about 95 % of the occurences the sore is on the male prepuce, or the head of the penis, and in the female, on the vulva, (labias, or external part of the female reproductive organs) or on the cervix, which cannot be seen. In rare cases this initial sore may be on the breast, lips or tongue. Usually it is a single sore, although more than one has been known. The sore is red and about the size of a pea. Within a week's time, it gets a little larger, then starts to break open and ulcerates. This sore marks the place where the syphilis bacteria entered the skin and body. Within a few weeks, you develop fever, chills, aches, headache, and swollen glands. Sometimes there is a rash that occurs as well. The rash may appear anywhere and is grayish in color, it can even occur in the mouth. Early symptoms disappear spontaneously. Eventually the rash disappears, but the infection is not gone.

The second stage is called the latent period. This is where the spirochetes invade the bloodstream, usually six to eight weeks after the appearance of the chancre sore. There may not be any symptoms at first. In this stage the person is no longer contagious, or able to spread the disease, but still has it. But the most distinctive characteristic of the secondary stage is the appearance of the rash. It is not an itchy rash and often goes unnoticed. It can occur anywhere from the scalp all the way down to the soles of the feet. The palms are a common place for it. There is often sore throat, achiness, hoarseness, headache, weakness, and patches of hair loss in this stage. If it remains untreated, it goes into the third stage of the disease, where brain damage can occur, as well as blindness, paralysis and disorientation, and damage to blood vessels, allowing clots and aneurysms to form.

Most people do not reach these stages because there is treatment now. Oral and injected antibiotics destroy the bacteria and cure the disease. The disease is contagious and transmitted sexually. Early treatment is of utmost importance. About 50% of the people treated for syphilis have a reaction to the toxins released by the bacteria when an antibiotic is used. Symptoms of the reaction are usually headache, fever, chills, nausea, rapid heart beat and slightly lowered blood pressure, which are all treated during treatment with aspirin, and bed rest.

How common is syphilis today? Good question. Health officials are required to report the incidence to the Centers for Disease Control. Gonorrhea is the most frequently reported STD in the United States. There was a sharp increase in Gonorrhea in the 60's and 70's. Syphilis is the third most reported, today averaging about 1-5 for every 100,000 people. Still there is believed to be 100's of thousands of cases each year that go unreported.

Diagnosis is usually in the form of a blood test called a VDRL. The sore or skin lesion identification by a physician is also acceptable for diagnosis, although a blood test is usually routinely done also. It you suspect you may have syphilis and the blood test is negative, another blood test should be done six weeks later and again in three months. If the last one is still negative, you can be pretty sure you do not have syphilis. People with an active case of mono, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis, and some autoimmune diseases, like Lupus, will usually have a false positive VDRL. In the secondary stage of syphilis, the blood test is always positive.

Syphilis is one of the most serious of the STDs, or venereal diseases, because the effects are systemic, instead of just localized and becuase it can effect vital organs, which could be potentially be life threatening. The incubation period for syphilis is 10 to 90 days, averaging 20 days until symptoms occur. During the primary stage of the disease, or early stage, this is when the person is the most infectious. Often a blood test can be negative at this stage. The lesion will dissappear within three to four weeks with or WITHOUT treatment, so often people think it is gone, but it is not. This is very dangerous. The damage is only beginning. By the way, no topical medication will hasten the healing of the sore. The sore is just the manifestation of the disease, before it goes internal.

After about a week or two with no treatment, and definitely after the sore or sores are gone, the disease is now in the secondary stage. Then the rash occurs which can be in the throat, around the mouth and lips and in the genital area, pustules may form, which are highly infectious. Other symptoms besides the ones already mentioned which can occur during untreated syphilis include: alopecia, or hair loss, loss of appetite, weakness,arthritic symptoms, stomach disturbances, and inflammation of the eyes. Without treatment the symptoms may come and go for years, and it is still highly contagious. After 10 or more years permanent damage will begin to manifest, in paralysis, cardiovascular problems. Women who become pregnant while having syphilis usally have miscarriages, or stillbirths. Those babies who do survive and live usually have complications, such as deafness, mental retardation, or teeth or bone deformaties. They also have syphilis and are highly contagious.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the treatment is Penicillin. If you are allergic to penicillin, tetracycline is used, except in pregnancy, where then, Erythromycin would be used. Again, early detection and treatment of this potentially destructive disease is of utmost importance. One step further, would be to say that prevention of this disease would be the best line of defense.

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