What is Syphilis Disease? Stages and Symptoms of Syphilis

Contributed by: Rachna Arya

What is Syphilis Disease?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that is spread with sores of syphilis during direct contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The disease is not only highly contagious, but it is also sneaky. Usually, the infected person does not feel any symptoms and passes them on to the partner. This sexually transmitted disease (STD) is caused by the pathogen Treponema pallidum. 

It is important to remember that syphilis doesn’t spread through casual contact.

  • Sharing food or drinks
  • Kissing
  • Hugging
  • Holding hands
  • Sharing towels
  • Coughing or sneezing 
  • Sitting on toilet seats
  • Touching doorknobs

This potentially fatal disease can cause various cardiovascular, neurological & mental problems. If left untreated, it can progress to severe health issues. Without appropriate treatment, syphilis can contribute to life-threatening health issues as well as death.

In this blog, let’s understand this infection and identify the stages of this disease and the signs and symptoms associated with each stage of illness.

Stages and Symptoms of Syphilis

This disease develops in four stages:

  1. Primary
  2. Secondary
  3. Latent
  4. Tertiary

The disease has varying symptoms, depending on the stage of illness. Understanding the signs and symptoms of syphilis can help you receive preventive treatment. Symptoms in the first two stages can be so mild that you might not notice them. During the latent or hidden stage of syphilis, there are no noticeable symptoms.

Primary Stage

During the initial stage of syphilis, a single painless sore and multiple sores appear at the site of infection. These sores usually occur around the:

  • penis
  • vagina
  • anus
  • rectum
  • lips or in the mouth.

The sores are highly infectious and they usually heal on their own after 3 to 6 weeks. 

During this stage, the disease is easily treated and cured with a penicillin injection.

Secondary Stage

During this stage, a rough red or reddish-brown rash develops on the palms of hands and soles of feet. Other flu-like symptoms may occur, including:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Extreme tiredness 
  • Weight loss.

These symptoms will eventually go away, even if you don’t get treated. However, if the disease is left untreated, the infection will get worse.

Latent Stage

The third stage of syphilis can be regarded as the hidden stage. During this phase, the syphilis bacteria are still alive in your body, but there is an absence of visible signs or symptoms of the infection. You’re not contagious during this stage, but syphilis may still affect various parts of your body like your heart, brain, nerves, and bones. This phase can last for a duration of months or years, before progressing to tertiary syphilis.

Tertiary Stage

This last stage occurs years or decades after the initial infection. The symptoms from the secondary stage disappear at this point. This is a life-threatening stage and although the disease isn’t contagious at this point, but the infection has started to affect your organs. 

Symptoms of tertiary syphilis may include:

  • Problems controlling muscle movements
  • Numbness
  • Vision problems 
  • Deafness
  • Memory loss

It’s important to understand the disease’s risk factors and early symptoms of the infection to help stop its spread. Potentially serious health problems can result from untreated syphilis. So, if you have the above symptoms of syphilis infection or had sexual contact with someone who might have syphilis, then it is recommended that you should go to a doctor for a syphilis diagnosis immediately. 

It is important to remember that home remedies or symptomatic treatments are ineffective for treating this illness. It is important to follow the complete recommended course of treatment, as prescribed by the doctor.

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