Syphilis, as a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD), is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum which is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world today with numerous infected people entering the records of the World Health Organization (WHO) every year. Also, this disease usually advances in several phases just like chancre (painless ulcer) ranging from the basic stage to the more dangerous one. Syphilis has 4 stages which are:
Interestingly, these stages may not occur in the common order; it may stagger and prove inconsistent.
It is important to note that the chancre forms in the primary stage of syphilis and it is highly contagious as it can last for 1-5 weeks. The primary syphilis chancre sores are often found on the genitals but may also be found in the following parts of the body which includes:
At the early/primary stage of syphilis, a genital ulcer is formed which is known as the syphilis chancre. The ulcer is a wound caused by the infection. The ulcer (also called the sore) occurs about 3 weeks after contact with the infection. It is through the syphilis chancre that transmission of the infection occurs when direct contact is made with the infected area during sexual intercourse; the possibility of this is because the chancre contains a numerous quantity of the bacterium (Treponema pallidum).
Most times, the chancre is confused with chancroid because of some similarities that exist between them; however, some basic differences also exist which can help distinguish the chancre from chancroid.
Similarities Existing Between Chancroid and Chancre
- Develop after the invasion of sexually transmitted micro-organisms
- Occur in the genitals
- Relatively small in diameter, about 2 cm
Differences between Chancre and Chancroid
- The chancre is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum while chancroid is caused by the bacterium Haemophilus decree
- More pain is experienced in chancroid while there are no pains associated with chancre
- Chancroid only heals with treatments, unlike chancre that will heal eventually even without treatment
- Chancroid exhibits multiple spots while the chancre exhibit single spots
Chancre sores are not usually found on the face, though there is a possibility that they can be. Therefore, syphilis chancres are mostly recognized as chancres and not chancre sores. It is important to note at this point that because chancres are painless, they usually go unnoticed. By implication, some persons may be infected with syphilis for a very long time before they notice any symptom.
It is important to understand at this stage that chancre in the mouth is one major reason transmission via oral sex has made a vital contribution to the syphilis epidemic over the past few years.
Visible Symptoms of Syphilis Chancre
There are two basic signs to watch out for as far as syphilis chancre is concerned, they are:
- The lymph nodes in the affected area will be swollen. Lymph nodes are present in specific areas of the body e.g. armpit, groin, under the chin etc., the lymph nodes are responsible for draining lymph fluid (containing lymphocytes) in certain areas of the body
- There will be a painless sore around the affected area, sometimes in the rectum, skin or genitals and even mouth. It is important to understand that this sore will, by itself, heal after about 3 weeks, beginning from the 3rd week of contact with the infection. The sores often last about 3 to 6 weeks and eventually disappear on their own with or even without treatment and/or medication. However, if one does not get treated and the chancre disappears, one can still have syphilis with the sores being absent.
Syphilis may present a different symptom in those people with HIV. Ask your physician about the signs to expect if you have HIV because the signs and symptoms of syphilis will be different from those without HIV.
How does Syphilis Chancre Spread?
Syphilis chancre is highly contagious and can even last for a period of 1-5 weeks. This disease can be passed via skin-to-skin contact with the sore on the body. Consequently, condoms can be used to reduce the high-risk of infecting a partner if the sore is outside the vagina or on the male’s penis. Also, if the sore is in the mouth, there is a possibility that the disease will spread by simply kissing a person who is with the infection, thereby infecting the person with the disease.
Prevention of Syphilis Chancre
It is very pathetic that people with substantial information on the subject of syphilis disease still become careless. Flowing from this, there are several preventive measures that one can put into practice that would be of immense help. They include but are not restricted to:
- Abstaining from any sexual contact if one feels he or she has been exposed to the infection
- Avoid unprotected sex. Engage in safe sex practice by making use of condoms
- Be faithful to one partner who is free from the syphilis infection
- Do not share sex toys with anybody. Sex toys can serve as a convenient way for transmission of the infection too
- Both you and your partner should visit a clinic for a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) test before exploring the sexual world together
- Do not share sharp objects because the bacterium can be transmitted via infected needles
- You should also present yourself to the doctor if you already have syphilis infection and you are pregnant
Diagnosis of Syphilis Chancre
There are three ways to diagnose syphilis chancre, they are:
- Recognizing the signs and symptoms
- Examination of blood samples by a qualified medical examiner
- Identifying the syphilis bacteria under a Microscope in a qualified lab
Medical doctors usually use all these steps to diagnose syphilis chancre and decide upon the appropriate stage of infection. Also, blood tests provide evidence of infection. Notwithstanding the fact that they may give false-negative results despite the presence of the disease. That is why two blood tests are usually used so that if in the event the first blood test carried out still proves false-negative despite the presence of the disease, the second blood test may be on the contrary to ascertain the true position.
Most times, interpreting blood tests for diagnosing syphilis chancre can be very difficult and that is the reason why repeated tests are necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Syphilis Chancre
Syphilis chancre can be handled by proper medication which will go a long way in preventing the disease from spreading. Penicillin is one of the most used antibiotics and this is usually effective in treating syphilis chancre. However, persons whose body system reacts so much to penicillin are likely to be treated with various antibiotics, such as:
During treatment, one is advised to abstain from sexual intercourse, until all sores and openings that can make one contact this disease heals up, it is not advisable to have direct contact with your sexual partner until your doctor tells you it is safe to resume sex. If in the event that one is sexually active, his/her partner should be treated as well.
Mode of Transmission of Syphilis Chancre
Syphilis chancre can be transmitted in the following ways:
- By flesh to flesh contact with the syphilis chancre
- The infection can also be transmitted via anal sex, vaginal sex, and oral sex
- Sharing sharp objects with infected people
- Sharing sex toys with infected people
It is imperative to note that syphilis chancre is the primitive stage of the infection when sores are seen around the affected area. At this stage, treatment of the infection can be effective with the right drug (penicillin). If you exhibit any of the above-listed symptoms of syphilis chancre, it will be necessary to present yourself to your physician for further diagnosis and treatment before it gets to other stages which might be deteriorating.