Syphilis is not a very dangerous disease if we take the right protective measure in our life. It is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum which can be killed by the available antibiotics. But the underlying problem is that syphilis goes undiagnosed due to its simple rashes which disappear within some time, and there is a long latent period in which there are no visible signs and symptoms on the body. Syphilis is also called “the great imitator” because the symptoms it produces are similar to that of other diseases. Syphilis is most common among the age group 15-30 since the young adults who just attained puberty has little or no knowledge about sexual diseases.
Little bit about history
Syphilis has been around since the 15th century. The first breakout was in Europe then with time, doctors started understanding the disease. German researchers discovered the bacteria causing the disease. The discovery of penicillin decreased the number of cases of syphilis. Second largest epidemic of syphilis occurred in 1947 with approximately 106,000 cases recorded in the U.S. In 1960, due to sexual revolution, there were large number of cases recorded especially among men who had sex with men.
Why syphilis becomes a dangerous disease
Syphilis remains asymptomatic in most of the bacteria’s lifecycle but in the last stage, it becomes deadly. Syphilis manifests itself through dementia, paralysis and deafness. Typically, the third or the tertiary stage has gummatous stage [where several tumor like formations (gummas) occurring on skin, bone and liver mostly], neurosyphilis [in which the bacteria affects the central nervous system resulting in paralysis] and cardiovascular [where the cardiovascular system is affected and can result in aneurysm].
In 2014, there are approximately 63,450 cases of syphilis as compared to HIV (47,352). In 2010, there has been 113,000 deaths due to syphilis. 458 cases of congenital syphilis have been reported in 2014.
Developing countries are more affected by syphilis than developed ones. African-American accounts for almost half of the cases in 2010 but in 2014, cases are increasing in the United Sates. According to some statistics, UK also has an increasing number of syphilis cases in men due to sexual contacts with men. According to “Syphilis: Review with Emphasis on Clinical, Epidemiologic, and Some Biologic Features” there has been a rise in cases in South and Southeast Asia (5.8 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (3.5 million). In North Africa and Middle East, syphilis cases are high due to increasing number of sex workers.
Prevention is better than cure therefore, in order to avoid this disease, it is important to know the ways of spreading of the disease and to stay away from them.
Ways of spreading
• Unhealthy sexual practices which includes having multiple sexual partners, unprotected sex, a man having sex with another man and having AIDS which is also a sexually transmitted disease.
• Kissing with the person having syphilitic sores in mouth and lips
• Pregnant mother passing it to the child. Such type of syphilis is called congenital syphilis but this occurs very rarely if compared to sexual transmission. Also 25% of such pregnancies result in stillbirths
• Non- sexual or direct contact with the syphilitic sores in mouth, lips, vagina, anus and penis in the first and second stage of the disease
• Syphilis can be transmitted by infected blood products or by sharing needles among intravenous drug abusers.
Awareness of the condition
Being aware and knowing that you could have been affected by syphilis is of the utmost importance. It is essential to know the signs and symptoms so that it can be treated at the right stage. The main issue with this condition is that it begins with mild sores, but these sores leave the body soon, while the bacteria causing the infection remain. Moreover, they may take some time to manifest, sometimes up to three months to even appear visibly. It is during this stage that maximum infections spread to others, as the person may not even be aware of the condition. If it is ignored at this point, it could lead to firmer red rashes in various regions that may or may not be accompanied by fever. Another common appearance is the presence of warts. Sometimes, when these rashes are ignored, the bacteria tend to hit other parts and organs of the body over a span of time. The infection then manifests itself in more than one way. Most severe cases report of blindness, joint problems, and even brain damage.
Preventing the spread
A number of ways of contracting syphilis have been explained earlier. However, the spread of Syphilis to other bodies is not confined to these alone. Sometimes poor hygiene habits, ignorance of the existing symptoms, and oral contact with a person suffering from syphilis can lead to secondary infection and passage of infection. Staying away from the infection is as important as preventing its spread to other people. It is a very contagious disease and can easily pass on through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Mere contact with the infected region in the infected person’s body is enough to fall prey to it. If you know you have syphilis, the best thing to do is take precautions, visit a doctor, follow medical advice, and abstain from sexual intercourse till you are clear of the infection. Contraction of the bacteria by sharing water, baths, clothes, dishes etc. are just myths and not true.
Anyone affected by this, can give their blood samples for test. Once the results are out, sit with the doctor and take his advice and prescription. An alternate to blood test is fluid test primarily from swollen lymphatic nodes. The swelling may or may not be very evident to the naked eye. Thus, it is advisable to get a thorough check up done and let the hospital or clinic decide on the best diagnostic test and treatment for you. With advances in medicine, a number of drugs can help to cure this infection. The most commonly prescribed one is penicillin.