Syphilis

grey watery textureThere has been a recent upsurge in Ireland in cases of syphilis, a bacterial infection that can cause heart and brain damage at its most extreme.

It’s very treatable if diagnosed early, but it’s crucial that all recent sexual partners of the infected person are treated as well, to halt the spread of the disease. Those infected are more at risk of developing other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) like HIV, so a full STI test should be carried out.

How do you catch syphillis?

  • Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • Intimate genital contact
  • Unprotected rimming (mouth to anus contact)
  • From an infected pregnant mother to her baby
  • Kissing an infected person

What are the symptoms?

There are three general stages to syphilis infection, with the same symptoms for men and women.

Stage 1 – Primary infection

There is an incubation period of between nine to 90 days ( a period of time between exposure to an infections disease and the appearance of the first sign of symtoms.)

A painless sore called a ‘chancre’ will usually appear, that might not be noticeable. It looks like a roundish area of broken skin with an infected centre. It can be weepy, and have pus coming from it. You can have a chancre around the vagina or penis, the mouth or throat, or the rectum. This usually clears up after two to six weeks but the infection remains in your body.

However some people have no symptoms whatsoever at this stage. The infection can be passed on to others at this point.

Stage 2 – Secondary infection

This stage has an incubation period of between six weeks and six months. A lumpy rash may appear on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet, but it’s usually not itchy or painful. There may be general flu-like symptoms for weeks or months. You can still pass on the infection at this stage.

Stage 3 – Tertiary infection

This stage can happen months or years after the original infection. Problems with the brain, liver or arteries can develop in the most extreme cases, which can last for a long time. By this stage you can’t pass syphilis on to another person, but you get very sick. If the syphilis affects too many important organs, it can cause death.

Having a blood test

Sometimes, people with syphilis have no symptoms at all and are diagnosed on blood testing. A positive syphilis blood test in the absence of symptoms is called latent syphilis.

Can a newborn get syphilis?

Yes. Infection during pregnancy can lead to stillbirths, neonatal death and congenital defects such as deafness, neurological impairment, and bone deformities. If not treated immediately, an infected baby may be born without symptoms but could develop them within a few weeks. These signs and symptoms can be very serious. Untreated babies may become developmentally delayed, have seizures, or die.

Getting diagnosed

You can have a special blood test to check whether you have syphilis, or a bacterial sample from a sore can be examined under a microscope. Blood tests during pregnancy include syphilis tests to prevent the infection being passed on to the baby. You can be treated safely for syphilis while pregnant.

Treatment

Antibiotics are very effective at treating syphilis. Remember, your sexual partner(s) need to be notified so that they can be accessed and treated if necessary.

It’s important to abstain from sex for at least two weeks after treatment to avoid spreading the infection. Follow-up blood tests should be carried out to make sure the infection is responding to treatment. These are usually carried out at intervals of three, six, 12 and 24 months. Those on antibiotic therapy for syphilis must abstain from sexual contact with new partners until the syphilis sores are completely healed.One your follow-up tests are clear, you can know for sure that you won’t infect new partners.

Prevention

You can protect yourself from syphilis by using condoms correctly when you have sex. Check for useful tips on wearing condoms. To find out where you can go for an STI test, check Think Contraception for a list of sexual health clinics around the country.

 

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  1. alex says:

    I understand better.I want to learn more please send me more

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