Syphilis is an infectious sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by the bacteria called treponema pallidum. In some cases, the infection may be passed on through blood transfusions or from a mother to her unborn baby. Without treatment, syphilis progresses through various stages and can cause irreversible damage to the brain, nerves, and other body tissues in its final stages.
Primary syphilis: This stage starts between 10 days to 3 months after exposure to infection. A small, painless sore or ulcer called chancre is the commonest symptom at this stage. The chancre appears at the site of infection on the genital (penis, vagina), anus, rectum, tongue or lips. The sore lasts for about 2 to 6 weeks and if you are not treated, the disease progresses to its second stage. You can transmit the infection to another person through sexual contact (oral, anal and/or vaginal).
Secondary syphilis: Symptoms of this stage start a few weeks after the sore goes away. The common symptoms at this stage are rashes (they can appear anywhere on the body but the palms and soles are commonest sites), sore throat, fatigue and tiredness. In case you have syphilis, you are likely to be most infectious during the primary and secondary stages of syphilis. This stage lasts for a few weeks and if you are not treated, in all probability you will experience a latent (hidden) phase with no symptoms.
Latent phase: The latent phase of syphilis can last from a few years to decades. After a few years of latent syphilis, even though a person is infected/he will not transmit the infection to others. Without treatment, this stage of syphilis slowly progresses to the most dangerous stage of syphilis; tertiary syphilis.
Tertiary syphilis: This is the most dangerous stage of syphilis and this stage of syphilis can be fatal. Tertiary syphilis can affect the different parts such as the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, bones, skin and blood vessels and can cause serious damage to the organs.
Syphilis is often been labelled "the great imitator" as the many of its signs and symptoms are difficult to differentiate from those of other diseases. It is difficult to diagnose but if diagnosed early, it can be easily treated with antibiotics. Penicillin is the preferred drug unless you are allergic to it. Penicillin has been able to control the spread of this common sexually transmitted disease but efforts to eradicate the disease have not been successful.
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