Syphilis is a disease that has left an indelible mark on history. Famous figures ranging in different fields, such as Cesare Borgia, Guy de Maupassant, and Franz Schubert, are all believed to have suffered from this disease. Its origins are a matter of contentious debate, and this is reflected in the many names that people gave it. The first recorded cases of syphilis were in the end of the 1400s, during the French invasion of Naples. Consequently, it was termed the “French disease”. Several other names would arise, involving the attachment of the name of some other country, depending on the nationalistic tendencies of those who named the disease. Still, regardless of what people chose to call it, syphilis recognised no borders and would proceed to make its way across the earth.
What is the cause of syphilis?
Syphilis is caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum. Its unique spiral shape enables it to readily pierce through gaps in the skin and mucous membranes (the lining of the mouth, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts). Not surprisingly, the initial stages of infection generally present themselves on those areas. Direct contact with a syphilis sore – which contains T. pallidum – is sufficient to cause infection, and such contact can occur through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. An infected woman who is pregnant can also transmit it to her unborn child. However, despite the ease with which T. pallidum spread across the world, the bacterium dies quickly outside the human host, and is therefore very difficult to transmit through the sharing of objects (such as clothing and eating utensils).
How does syphilis affect people?
Syphilis is distinct from other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) for its relatively diverse set of symptoms and stages of disease progression. In fact, the range of symptoms that syphilis causes has earned it the moniker “the great imitator”, as its symptoms mimic those of other diseases. The type of symptoms that a person presents with depends on the stage of infection, which have been classified into the following categories: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.
Both the primary and secondary stages of syphilis involve the skin and mucous membranes. In the primary stage, skin lesions – also known as chancres – develop in the original site of infection. These are normally painless, although chancres can progress to ulcers, which can be painful. These symptoms may persist for a few weeks without treatment. However, some infected people do not show any signs of disease in the primary stage.
In the secondary stage, reddish-pink and non-itchy rashes may appear on the skin, such as on the palms and soles of the feet. These rashes may also form wart-like lesions called condyloma lata on mucous membranes. Other symptoms in the secondary stage may include fever, weight loss, and headache. Many people who develop secondary syphilis are those who did not show any symptoms of primary syphilis. This is why if you suspect you may have caught the disease, getting yourself tested for syphilis is important even if you feel well.
The symptoms in the secondary stage may resolve after a few weeks, but this by no means indicates that the person is free of disease. Syphilis can progress to a latent form after the secondary stage. As the name indicates, this means that the person is still infected and more importantly, infectious, but does not show any sign of disease. Should the person continue to remain untreated, latent syphilis can progress to the final, tertiary stage after a variable amount of time, ranging from a few years to decades. The tertiary stage is associated with terrible complications. This could involve the development of gummatous syphilis, in which soft balls of inflammation called gumma develop throughout the body, including the skin. Depending on their location, gummas can lead to problems with the nervous system, the heart valve, as well as lead to disfigurement. Another complication is neurosyphilis, affecting the central nervous system, leading to seizures, dementia, psychosis, and paralysis.
How can I get tested and treated for syphilis?
In this modern day and age, there is little reason why anyone should allow themselves to be thus ravaged by a disease. No vaccine exists for syphilis, but infection can be prevented through the proper use of condoms. Syphilis is readily treated with the antibiotic penicillin, and in the event that you have an allergy to penicillin, alternative antibiotics are also available for treatment. Bear in mind that it is not possible to reverse the damage already caused by syphilis, which is another reason to be diagnosed early to halt disease progression.
In the event that you suspect an infection, early detection and diagnosis is essential to prevent disease progression and spread. Detecting syphilis infection is quick and easy using our Syphilis Rapid Test Kit, which uses the same method of detection as that of hospital laboratories worldwide. The kit requires only 1 – 2 drops of blood from a finger prick and gives you with a reliable and accurate result in 15 minutes. It is safe and easy to use.