What is syphilis and what treatment options are available?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and is caused by the spirochetal bacteria Treponema pallidum. The bacteria is primarily caused through sexual contact, but syphilis can also be transferred from a mother to a foetus during pregnancy, or during birth.
Syphilis is most commonly diagnosed by blood test and can be treated by antibiotics. There are 4 stages in which syphilis can present itself. These four stages are the primary, secondary, latent and tertiary stages.
In the primary stage, syphilis will usually present itself in the form of a single chancre, which is a painless ulceration. In the secondary stage, a diffuse rash will form. In the latent stage, there are no visual symptoms, as the name suggests. In the tertiary stage, gummas (a soft growth) will form, while neurological and cardiac symptoms can emerge.
There are no vaccines that are effective for preventing syphilis yet, but proper use of a condom can significantly reduce the spread of syphilis. If syphilis infection is discovered early, antibiotics (such as Penicillin G) will be prescribed to overcome the infection. If the infection is not discovered until a later stage, the use of intravenous penicillin can become necessary, as Penicillin G has a poor penetration rate into the central nervous system. Failure to seek treatment for syphilis can increase the chances of contracting other STDs, while it also had a death rate of 8-58%, if left untreated.