Syphilis is one of many sexually transmitted diseases which, if left untreated, can be quite severe. The infection is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, a member of a species of spirochaete bacterium.
The infection is easily transmitted during unprotected sexual contact with an infected individual. The transfer is possible if there are initial ulcers or sores that form on the skin and mucous membranes of the genitalia, mouth and anus. The bacterium may also enter the body via cracks and cuts in the skin. Pregnant women suffering from active syphilis may transfer the bacterium to their babies through the placenta.
Stages of Syphilis
Syphilis is easily cured if recognized timely, in its initial stage. Unfortunately, the condition may remain unrecognized, untreated and progress into chronic form of the disease causing irreversible damage to multiple organs.
There are four stages of syphilis, primary, secondary, latent and tertiary stage of the disease. Only during the first two stages a person is infective and may transfer the bacterium to his/her sexual partner. Later, the disease is no longer contagious but causes severe damage to many organs and organ systems in the body.Primary SyphilisPrimary syphilis develops in a form of a chancre, an ulcer that forms 10 days to 3 months after the exposure. This ulcer is painless and if located somewhere where it cannot be easily seen, the infection may remain undiagnosed. A chancre generally develops on the cervix, tongue and lips, penis, vulva or vagina.Secondary SyphilisIn secondary stage the person develops typical skin rash with skin changes which are the size of a penny. The rash develops 3-6 weeks after the formation of a chancre. This skin rash may affect the entire body, but it basically remains localized onto the palms and soles. The rash withdraws within several weeks or even months and any contact with an infected individual (sexual contact or contact with his/her broken skin) may cause disease transmission. Symptoms and sign of the secondary syphilis may remain for a couple of years.Latent SyphilisLatent syphilis is the stage of the disease during which the person is no longer contagious and there are no obvious symptoms or signs caused by the bacterium. Still, even in latent stage the disease can be confirmed with some blood tests.Tertiary SyphilisTertiary syphilis affect one-third of all people who have entered the second and latent stage of the disease. This, rather late phase of the disease, is accompanied by severe damage to multiple organs. Tertiary syphilis may linger for many years. Patients develop different mental illnesses, may lose their sight, suffer from severe neurological deficits, heart conditions and finally end up dead.
Neurosyphilis is one of several severe complications of chronic disease. It affects approximately 3-7% untreated people and may develop even 20 years after the exposure. Even though some people with neurosyphilis may not have any complaints at all, others have to deal with headache, stiff neck, fever, seizures or develop stroke-like symptoms such as numbness, weakness and vision problems.