Syphilis is caused by a type of bacteria called Treponema pallidum. It causes sores and those sores are the way the disease is passed on during sexual contact. It does take direct contact however. The bacteria can be passed on by an infected woman to her unborn child, resulting in death for the fetus or the child soon after birth. Over 30 thousand people are infected each year.
Syphilis has three basic stages:
* Primary stage - the incubation period ranges from 10-90 days after infection. the average is 21 days. A single sore, called a chancre, is usually the first sign. It is small, round, firm and painless and appears where the bacteria first entered the body. It is possible to have multiple sores. The chancre heals on its own in three to six weeks. Without treatment, the disease moves in to:
* Secondary stage - begins with rashes on the body. The primary places are the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. The rough reddish or reddish-brown spots will disappear on their own in a few weeks. Other types of rashes can also appear on other parts of the body. Other symptoms will mimic flu symptoms such as fever, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, exhaustion and swollen glands. During both primary and secondary stage, a person is infectious and can pass the disease on to others.
* Late or latent stage - starts when the visible symptoms disappear. The disease remains however and will start to destroy internal organs. Symptoms from this may not show up for years but when they do, they can be deadly.
Diagnosis and treatment
The tests for syphilis are simple. A microscopic examination of a sample from a sore can tell if the bacteria are present. Shortly after infection, a blood test can tell if a person has been infected.
Syphilis is easily cured with a round of antibiotics. Damage done to internal organs however, many times cannot be repaired.
CDC recommends that pregnant women be screened for syphilis, and treated if they are infected. Syphilis poses a danger to a fetus during pregnancy. untreated syphilis, for example, can result in stillbirth, newborn death or birth defects.
Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent infection. All other methods carry some risk.