Syphilis is notorious for masquerading as other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so it’s important to know about the causes and symptoms to adequately protect yourself. Syphilis is caused by transmission of the bacteria treponema pallidum, either through contact with open sores or by a pregnant woman to her baby. National health statistics show that the number of people with syphilis grows each year. In 2006 cases shot up by 11.8%, and 64% of those cases were gay males.
As with many STDs, individuals can have syphilis for years without showing any symptoms. Without open sores present, the disease can’t be transmitted sexually.
Once symptoms begin to show, there are three stages of infection:
1) One chancre sore grows at the site of infection and heals on its own within three to six weeks. ;
2) As the chancre sore heals (or sometimes weeks after), rashes begin to appear on the body. They often grow on the palms of your hands and the bottom of your feet, but they can be anywhere. Sometimes the rash is so mild that it goes unnoticed. At this time you may also begin to experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph glands and sore throat; and
3) The last stage is what often makes syphilis so tricky! During this stage, all symptoms clear up and it all seems to have all been just one big dream. However, infection still remains in the body, and about 15% of sufferers experience the final effects of the disease 10 to 20 years later. Syphilis gradually overtakes the body by damaging the internal organs, which results in numbness, paralysis, muscle atrophy, blindness and dementia. These conditions may be severe enough to cause death.
Doctors usually diagnose syphilis by inspecting open sores with a microscope or taking a simple blood test. Infected individuals are more at risk for contracting HIV and suffering from other medical complications.
The good news is that syphilis can be cured with antibiotics in its early stages. Those who have been infected for over a year may need to undergo multiple rounds of antibiotics. To best protect yourself against syphilis, ask a potential partner about testing for STDs before sexual contact occurs. Using a condom may also limit your exposure.