Syphilis Testing

Syphilis Testing

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by bacteria.  The specific bacteria that causes syphilis is treponema pallidum.  Syphilis is contracted by exposure to a syphilis sore, through person to person contact, usually during sexual activities including kissing.  Syphilis can also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her unborn fetus.  If a baby is born with syphilis and not treated promptly, the baby can develop serious health problems within a couple weeks, including seizures and death.  A common misconception and myth regarding syphilis is that it can be spread through touching contaminated objects that are common in public places.  In fact syphilis cannot be spread through items such as toilet seats, bathtubs, hot tubs, door knobs, shared clothing and any other object that isn’t living.

Reported cases of syphilis were over 36,ooo in 2006.  Most cases occur between the ages of 20 and 39, since this is the majority of the sexually active population.  A staggering statistic is that according to the CDC, 64% of people infected with syphilis are men that contract the disease from having sex with other men.  This is mainly what accounts for the connection between syphilis and HIV.  Because syphilis is marked by an open sore, usually on the genitals, the CDC estimates that persons with syphilis have a 2 to 5 fold increase in their risk of contracting HIV.


Syphilis Symptoms

Syphilis is also known as the “the great imitator” because it shares so many signs and symptoms with other diseases making it hard to diagnose and making it that much more important to get syphilis testing occasionally.  A lot of people that are infected with syphilis do not show any symptoms for many years, leaving them at a high risk for long term complications and health problems if they are untreated.  Of course this also means you are capable of spreading the disease to others.  There are three stages to syphilis, the primary, secondary and late stage (also known as the latent stage).


Primary Stage Syphilis Symptoms

This stage of syphilis is most commonly identified by the presence of a sore somewhere on the body, usually on the genitals or lips and mouth.  A single sore is most common, also known as a chancre, but multiple sores may also be present.  The chancre or sore will be round and firm, fairly small and painless.  It will appear at the spot where syphilis has entered the body.  It can last anywhere from three to six weeks and will heal on its own. The average time it takes for the first sore or symptom of syphilis to occur is around 3 weeks or 21 days from exposure to infection.  The first symptom can however take up to 3 months to appear.  If you are not treated before the chancre goes away on its own (usually at the end of 6 weeks) the infection will progress to the secondary stage.


Secondary Stage Syphilis Symptoms

The secondary stage of syphilis is marked by mucous membrane lesions and a skin rash.  The rash is usually developed on one or more areas of the body with the palms of hands and soles of feet being the most common areas, though rash can appear anywhere on the body. Itching is not usually accompanied with the rash.  These rashes can resemble those of other diseases and even be mistaken for hives.  Additionally to rashes, the secondary stage can produce syphilis symptoms that include swollen lymph glands, hair loss, headaches, fatigue, muscle loss and fever.  The signs and symptoms of syphilis during the second stage are not permanent, and they will go away on their own.  This does not mean that you no longer have syphilis, quite the opposite in fact.  If stage two syphilis symptoms do not instigate you to get testing and treatment then the infection will progress and move to the late (latent) stages of the disease.


Late and Latent Stages of Syphilis Symptoms

This stage of syphilis occurs after the syphilis symptoms from the previous two stages disappear.  A person in this stage is now showing no signs and symptoms of syphilis and is going through life with the belief that they are healthy and STD free.  This latent stage can last for years and unless you are tested for syphilis and treated you are at risk for major health problems down the road.  Because you still have syphilis during the latent stage you are putting your sexual partners and family at risk for acquiring the disease.  The signs and symptoms of the latent stage can appear ten to twenty years after initial infection.   Damage to internal organs is at risk including the brain, liver, bones, eyes and heart.  These occur under the following symptoms; difficulty controlling muscle movements, paralysis, dementia and gradual blindness.  Death may even occur from latent stage syphilis.  I don’t know about you, but these are symptoms I do not want to experience and though I don’t have much reason to believe I am infected, I’m getting tested for syphilis immediately.


Syphilis Treatment

If diagnosed and caught in the early stages, syphilis is pretty easy to cure without future complication.  Penicillin is the drug of choice for syphilis infections and there are other antibiotics available to those who are allergic to penicillin.  Antibiotics will cure syphilis for those who have been infected for a year or less, those who have been infected longer will need additional doses.  You cannot use any kind of home or natural remedy to cure syphilis, antibiotics are needed and though they can kill the bacteria they cannot reverse any damage that has already accumulated from the disease. This is another reason as to why it’s very important to catch syphilis in it’s early stages through STD testing.  Once you are cured from syphilis you are not immune to contracting future infections of the STD.  You absolutely can contract it again and you must wait until all sores are healed before becoming sexually active again.  It’s a moral courtesy to notify your recent and current sexual partners if you have been diagnosed with syphilis.


Syphilis Testing

Although fairly simple, testing for syphilis must be done in a professional health care setting where you can have blood drawn.  A simple, accurate and inexpensive blood test is all you need to determine whether or not you have syphilis.  There are no over the counter or home test kits available.  Pregnant women should always be tested with blood work in order to prevent transmission to their unborn fetus.

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