Syphilis Infection

What is syphilis infection?

Syphilis infection is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by bacterial infection. The medical term for syphilis which is diagnosed in the early stages is primary syphilis. Young adults are most commonly affected. The early symptoms are small, painless sores on the genitals and enlarged lymph nodes. This condition can affect many different parts of the body, so later symptoms can differ widely from person to person. Practicing safe sex helps to reduce the risk of catching syphilis. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection. With early and effective treatment, most people recover well.

Risks

Syphilis infection is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. If the infection is not diagnosed and treated, syphilis infections tend to cause waves of symptoms, and these are called the primary, secondary, and tertiary, or late, stages. It can take years for syphilis to progress from the first stage to the late stage. Young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 are most commonly diagnosed. Men who have sex with other men tend to be more likely to get syphilis.

Symptoms

The early symptoms of syphilis are a painless sore in the genital area, mouth or buttocks, and enlarged lymph nodes in the groin. These usually go away within weeks, and sometimes are not noticed. As the disease progresses, the affected person may develop a rash, fever, joint pain, hair loss, small lumps in the genital area and muscle aches. The later stages of syphilis develop slowly over years, and affect the heart, brain and other parts of body. This causes a variety of symptoms, including shortness of breath, confusion, forgetfulness, loss of coordination and nerve damage, among many others.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually made based on the symptoms, a physical examination and a blood test test for syphilis antibodies (proteins which fight infection). Many people are diagnosed by screening (testing people at risk without symptoms), because syphilis can cause no symptoms, or very unusual symptoms. If there is an ulcer present, a sample of fluid from the ulcer may be taken and investigated for signs of the bacteria.

Treatment

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics. Follow-up tests are usually done to test if the infection has been completely treated.

Prevention

Practicing safe sex can prevent new syphilis infections. Pregnant women are usually screened (tested without symptoms) for syphilis to prevent passing the bacteria to their child.

Other names for syphilis infection

  • primary syphilis
  • lues primary state
  • primary lues venerea
  • primary syphilis infection