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Syphilis is a bacterial infection usually transmitted via sexual contact. This disease is considered highly infectious from person to person during sexual intercourse, both via oral penetration and vaginal penetration.

Initially, syphilis starts as painful sores on the genitals or rectum and mouth. Subsequently, the disease may affect another person via skin or mucous membrane contact with these sores. 

After the initial infection, the syphilis bacteria can remain inactive for decades before becoming active again. Someone who has dealt with syphilis in the past may experience it again in the future. 

People who are infected with the syphilis bacteria are often unaware of their condition. They will not even realise that they have transmitted the disease to their sexual partners.

Syphilis can be cured with various treatment methods. If left untreated for too long, syphilis can progress into dangerous and life-threatening diseases and conditions such as arthritis, brain damage, and blindness.

Causes of Syphilis

Syphilis is caused by a bacteria called treponema pallidum. This bacteria can enter the body through abrasions in your skin or mucous membranes.

The most common route of transmission of bacteria is through sexual contact with an infected person. Generally, this transmission occurs in the early stages of the disease.

In some cases, the syphilis bacteria can also be transmitted through direct, unprotected contact with active lesions, such as during kissing or through infected mothers to their babies during pregnancy.

The syphilis bacteria cannot be spread by using the same toilet, bathtub, clothing or eating utensils. Transmission also does not occur through door knobs, swimming pools, or hot tubs.

A person may potentially be infected with syphilis if they use the same needles as an infected person or through a blood transfusion. However, this is a rare occurrence, as the process of transfusion and injection in the hospital generally begins with a diagnosis test for syphilis first.

Some people with certain risk factors have a higher potential for getting syphilis, including:

  • Engaging in unprotected sex.
  • Having sex with multiple partners..
  • Being infected with the HIV virus, the virus that causes AIDS. 
  • Engaging in anal intercourse 

When to see a Doctor for Syphilis? 

Patients diagnosed with syphilis can consult a dermatologist. To make a diagnosis, the dermatologist will ask the patient to undergo a series of physical examination tests.

The syphilis bacteria can be detected through tests such as:

  • Blood test. Blood tests can confirm the presence of  antibodies which generally increase when your body is trying to fight an infection. The antibodies for the syphilis bacterial infections remain in your body for years. This test can be used to detect both current and past infection.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid test. If your condition is suspected of causing complications of the nervous system, your doctor may order fluid tests that are taken from the spinal cord as a sample.
  • Darkfield microscope. Your doctor will take a sample of fluid from a minor cut in the skin or mucous membrane and then examine it using a microscope. The syphilis bacteria can be detected in this test.

Usually, after diagnosing a patient, the doctor will advise the patient to notify their sexual partner regarding the syphilis infection. Certain hospitals provide specialised services to help patients inform their sexual partners and schedule examinations.

This is done to diagnose syphilis infection as early as possible and undergo treatment as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Syphilis

Symptoms of syphilis develop gradually and vary with each stage. The stages often overlap and may not be easily recognized.

Generally, the symptoms of syphilis include:

  • White patches in the mouth.
  • A red, blotchy rash that often affects the palms or soles of the feet.
  • The growth of small skin resembling genital warts on the vulva area in women or around the lower part of the anus.
  • Fatigue, headache, joint pain, fever, and swollen glands in the neck, groin, or armpits.
  • Small, painless sores or ulcers that usually appear on the penis, vagina, and the area around the anus. In some cases, these sores or ulcers may also appear in the mouth.

Sometimes, the symptoms of syphilis can gradually go away on their own. However, this does not indicate a person has fully recovered from the bacterial infection that causes syphilis.

Some people with syphilis do not experience any symptoms.

Treatment for Syphilis 

Syphilis can be cured if detected and treated as early as possible. Syphilis is normally treated with antibiotics.

Antibiotics are given to patients with early stages of syphilis, in which symptoms start appearing less than a year in. At this stage, syphilis is still curable.

If the patient is in the middle of pregnancy or has an allergy to certain medications, the doctor may recommend treatment with a desensitization process, which is a therapy to reduce sensitivity to allergies. This allows patients to continue taking antibiotics safely.

For people with syphilis whose symptoms have appeared for more than a year, treatment usually requires additional doses.

During the initial period of treatment and antibiotics consumption, patients may experience a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, which is a reaction that includes fever, chills, nausea, aches, and headaches. This reaction generally lasts less than a day.

Furthermore, during the treatment period, the doctor will also advise the patient not to have sexual contact with anyone until the syphilis completely disappears. 

Someone who has been infected with syphilis in the past may have the potential to experience it again. For this reason, doctors will usually provide follow-up care for patients who have recovered from syphilis.

Doctors may provide follow-up care for syphilis patients by:

  • Suggesting HIV infection tests.
  • Reminding patients to be careful when having sexual intercourse 
  • Suggesting periodic blood tests to ensure the antibodies remain balanced 
  • Encourage patient’s sexual partners to have regular checkups to avoid recurring symptoms of syphilis.

Treatment Cost for Syphilis

The cost of syphilis treatment varies, depending on the symptoms, the stages, and the selected treatment methods.

For more information regarding the estimated cost of syphilis treatment, contact Smarter Health.

Prevention of Syphilis 

Prevention of syphilis can be done by:

  • Avoiding sexual contact with potentially-infected persons. 
  • Performing routine check-ups for pregnant women to prevent the fetus from the infectious syphilis bacteria
  • Avoid using illegal drugs by using the same needles
  • Maintaining good communication with your sexual partner to carry out regular check ups together.
  • Practicing safe sex when you do not know the health condition of your partner.

Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Syphilis

At the early stages, syphilis can be cured quickly. To speed up the recovery process, syphilis patients can take antibiotics prescribed by the doctor.

Patients are also advised to avoid sexual intercourse for some time to heal faster and prevent transmission of syphilis to their partners.

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