Syphilis, a bacterial infection caused by the Treponema Pallidum bacterium, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is hard to distinguish from other STD’s because syphilis symptoms mimic those of other STD’s. For this reason, syphilis is sometimes known as “the great imitator” and syphilis testing is critical for an accurate diagnosis.
Syphilis can be asymptomatic for years. But those infected are at risk for later complications if not treated. Most people contract syphilis from a person who doesn’t even know they are infected.
How do you get Syphilis?
Syphilis passes by direct contact with a syphilis sore from one person to another. A syphilis sore can be located on the vagina, external genitals, rectum or anus. Sometimes, the sores can be found in the mouth or on the lips. Syphilis is transmitted during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Infected women who are pregnant can pass syphilis to their baby. You cannot contract syphilis from casual contact (i.e. a toilet seat).
The Rapid Plasma Reagin (RPR) blood test detects antibodies to the Syphilis bacterium.
Syphilis Symptoms and Stages
Syphilis has three stages; primary, secondary and late. The symptoms will vary depending upon the stage you are in.
During the syphilis primary stage, a single sore, or chancre appears. The chancre can be round, small, firm, and painless. It appears at the area where syphilis entered a person’s body. After three to six weeks, the chancre heals with no treatment. However, if treatment has not been administered, the infection enters the secondary stage.
The syphilis secondary stage exhibits a skin rash and mucous membrane lesions. The stage begins with rash in one or several areas of the body. This rash can appear while, or several weeks following the chancre healing from the primary stage. The rash may appear on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet as rough, reddish brown, or red spots. But, other rashes that differ in appearance may show up elsewhere on the body. Secondary syphilis rashes are sometimes so faint, they go completely unnoticed. Additional symptoms may include sore throat, weight loss, fever, fatigue, swollen lymph glands, and headache. Although the symptoms will reside without treatment, if not treated, the syphilis infection will move on to the late stage of the disease.
The late stage starts when the secondary symptoms resolve. With no treatment, the infected individual will still have syphilis even if no symptoms are apparent. Syphilis, in the late stage, might damage internal organs such as the joints, bones, liver, heart, eyes, nerves, and even the brain. It might be many years before the internal damage is discovered.
If you are exhibiting any symptoms of syphilis, or have had sexual contact with someone who might be infected, Syphilis testing is highly recommended.