There is no doubt that the mere mention of syphilis is enough to send anybody running scared. However, this dreaded STD is much more common than you may think. For instance, in 2017, a total of 30,644 cases of syphilis were reported in the United States, yielding a rate of 9.5 cases per 100,000 population. Here is what you need to know about the disease and how you can prevent it from affecting you.
What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can result in disability, severe neurological disorders, and even death.
How is syphilis spread?
Syphilis is spread primarily through sexual contact. This includes through penetrative sex (vaginal and anal), as well as oral sex. Some experts agree that it can be passed on through prolonged periods of kissing too. It cannot be spread through toilet seats, doorknobs, public swimming pools, etc.
Who is most at risk?
Anybody who is sexually active is at risk of contracting syphilis, especially if they practice unsafe sex. Having said that, men are statistically at a higher risk of contracting the infection. This does not mean that women are immune! Syphilis is known to have a tragic effect on pregnant women resulting in stillbirths in around 40% of all cases.
What are the symptoms of syphilis?
The infection has three distinct stages. The first stage revolves around the development of one or more small, painless ulcers on the genitals or in and around the mouth. They heal within six weeks of appearing.
The second stage commences with a noticeable rosy rash that appears on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. This rash is often accompanied with fever, swollen lymph glands, weight loss, warts on the genitals, and white patches in the mouth.
The third stage is when things get dangerous. This is when the infection starts to cause neurological damage, paralysis, blindness, and eventually proves fatal.
How is syphilis diagnosed?
Syphilis is diagnosed through a simple blood test.
Is syphilis treatable?
Anyone who has been suffering from the infection for a period of less than 12 months can be treated with a single dose of penicillin which should resolve the problem quickly. Infections that have been around for longer may require more doses to get rid of syphilis for good. Anyone receiving treatment for syphilis must abstain from sexual contact until the infection has been completely eradicated.
If treatment takes place too late, there may be permanent damage to the brain or heart.
How to protect yourself from syphilis
You protect yourself from contracting syphilis the same way as you protect yourself from all STDs – by practicing safe sex. Also, always avoid sexual contact with anyone who you know is infected. As it is so highly contagious, it is still possible to pass syphilis on even if the right precautions have been taken.