Syphilis Symptoms

Syphilis symptoms progress through three stages, each more destructive than the previous. The disease is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.

Syphilis is a very contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD) during the primary and secondary stages. The use of simple, cheap protection (i.e. condom) during sexual activity would greatly limit the spread of the disease.

Early after infection bacteria may quickly reach local lymph nodes. In pregnant mothers, syphilis infection can result in birth defects and many other complications.

Early syphilis infection symptoms (First stage) typically appear 3-4 weeks following exposure and infection, although in some cases symptoms may appear anywhere from 1-13 weeks.

Second stage syphilis infection symptoms typically appear 6-12 weeks following exposure and infection.

Over time, if untreated, syphilis progresses to the destructive Third stage. Today, in developed countries, it is rare for syphilis cases to reach the third stage.

Syphilis symptoms:

    Primary Stage

  • painless sore at the infection site (usually the penis, vagina, vulva, but could appear in many other locations)
  • usually a single sore, but sometimes several develop
  • sore begins as red raised area on skin, the develops into painless open sore
  • sore is form to the touch
  • sore does not bleed
  • swelling of local lymph nodes
  • Second Stage

  • sore from primary stage may or may not yet be healed
  • recurring skin rash commonly on palms of hands and/or soles of the feet
  • rash typically does not hurt or is not itchy
  • rash may last from days to months
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • mouth sores
  • swelling of the lymph nodes
  • inflamed eyes (if spread to eyes)
  • blurred vision (if spread to eyes)
  • bone and/or joint pain
  • jaundice (if liver inflamed)
  • headaches, neck stiffness, deafness (if brain inflamed)
  • inner lip and vulva change color and appearance
  • hair loss in clumps
  • Third Stage

  • lumps on skin that eventually heal, but leave scars
  • chronic bone pain
  • locomotion and balance deficits (trouble walking)
  • cognitive deficits (inability to concentrate, talk)
  • behavioral changes, mood swings
  • intermittent stabbing pain in legs

The prevalence of syphilis has declined in the past 15 years in North America. This is mostly due to education and increased use of sexual contraception.

The majority of syphilis cases are diagnosed in the second stage upon appearance of the rash on the palms of the hands or on the soles of the feet.

Screening and confirmation of diagnosis are performed through laboratory examination of blood or swab samples.

Treatment and cure by intravenous administration of antibiotics is standard. However, the brain and heart may have been irreversibly damaged in some individuals who progressed to the third stage.

As with all STDs, prevention is the key.

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