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October 28, 2022

Glossary: Syphilis

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Glossary: Syphilis

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What’s Syphilis?

The rate of men and women with syphilis has increased since 2014 in the United States. Syphilis is a type of sexual transmitted disease (STD) that can spread through causal contacts with objects that include:

  • Clothing
  • Eating Utensils
  • Door Knobs
  • Toilet seats
  • Bathtubs
  • Hot tubs
  • Swimming pools

Causes

Treponema pallidum is the type of bacteria that causes syphilis. It is a contagious bacterial infection that is spread through sexual contact, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. Syphilis can also spread through person to person contact.

Stages of Syphilis

There are three stages of Syphilis which have different symptoms:

Primary 

During this stage, syphilis can be passed through individuals with sores called chancre, during sexual contact. A sore appears about three weeks after the bacteria enters the body. The sore is a small round bacteria that is firm and painless that can appear in the vagina, cervix, vulva, rectum, anus, lips, and other parts of the body. The sore often heals on its own and lasts for three to six weeks. The second stage occurs when the sore gets untreated.

Secondary

Skin rashes appear during the secondary stage and it can appear when the sore is healing or several weeks after its been healed. The rash looks red or reddish brown that is rough forming on a person’s bottoms of the feet and/or the palms of their hands. Usually the rash can be so faint and not itchy that it can be hard to notice. Fever, weight loss, headaches, patchy hair loss, fatigue, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, and muscle aches are other symptoms a person feels during the secondary stage.

Latent Stage

If left untreated during the primary and secondary stages, it can cause serious health problems. During this stage, there are no signs or symptoms that are visible.

Tertiary Stage

There are only about a third of people who progress to the tertiary stage. There are serious health problems that occur during this stage and it would be 10 to 30 years after the infection began. Some health problems that may develop are seizures, heart disease, brain damage, vision problems, and tumors.

Treatment and Prevention

To determine if someone has syphilis, an individual can take a blood or fluid test from their healthcare provider. To treat syphilis, antibiotics like penicillin can help treat the chancre or rash. Staying abstinent or using protection during can help prevent the spread of syphilis. 

It’s Fetch is a community that provides a safe space for members to discuss health and wellness topics. We provide access to archived health related content, note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content shared, regardless of date should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

-Written by Karen Manalac

Sources

Std facts—Syphilis. (2022, June 28). https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm

Syphilis: Symptoms, treatments. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved September 20, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4622-syphilis

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