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Symptoms and Signs of Syphilis

Doctor's Notes on Syphilis

Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted infection or sexually-transmitted disease (STD). It is caused by infection with the bacterium Treponema pallidum. The infection is spread by any type of sexual contact and occurs in both men and women.

Signs and symptoms of early syphilis include sores or rash in the mouth, vagina, or anus. The sores are firm, rounded, and do not cause pain. Itching is usually not present. Associated symptoms of the second stage of syphilis include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, weight loss, and headache. If the disease is not treated it can progress to a late stage that can persist for years. Late-stage symptoms include dementia, gradual blindness, paralysis, and damage to multiple internal organs.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Syphilis Symptoms

Syphilis may progress through 3 distinct stages. Sometimes not all 3 may be evident.

  • Primary phase: The primary phase usually starts with a sore at the site of infection. The sore or lesion is called a chancre (pronounced shanker). This sore usually appears as a painless craterlike lesion on the male or female genitals, although any part of the body is at risk. Anyone who touches an infected sore can become infected. This initial lesion develops 2-3 weeks after infection and heals spontaneously after 3-6 weeks. Though the sore goes away, the disease does not. It progresses into the secondary phase.
  • Secondary phase: The secondary phase may develop 4-10 weeks after the chancre. This phase has many symptoms, which is why syphilis is called "the great pretender." It may look like a number of other illnesses. This phase of syphilis can go away without treatment, but the disease then enters the third phase. These are the most frequently reported symptoms of the secondary phase:
  • Latent (dormant) phase: The early latent phase (first 12 months following infection) is characterized by an absence of symptoms. Patients in this stage are still infectious, however. Late latent syphilis is an asymptomatic stage when the infection occurred more than 12 months earlier, and these patients are generally not infectious. However, you can still transmit the infection from mother to fetus or through blood transfusions.
  • Tertiary Phase: About a third of people with latent syphilis will progress after many years (or decades) into tertiary syphilis. During this phase, the heart, brain, skin, and bones are at risk. Luckily, with the advent of penicillin, this phase is very rarely seen today.
    • Congenital syphilis occurs after a fetus is infected in the womb. This form of syphilis causes teeth abnormalities, bone problems, liver/spleen/kidney enlargement, brain infection, failure to thrive/poor growth, swollen lymph nodes, yellow skin (jaundice), low blood counts, and skin rashes.

Syphilis Causes

Syphilis is an infectious disease, usually sexually transmitted, disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. The bacteria penetrate chafed skin or the mucous membranes.

  • Transmission most often occurs when one person comes into contact with lesions on an infected person through sexual activity.
  • Men are more vulnerable to contracting syphilis than women.
  • The active disease is found most often among men and women aged 15-39 years.

STD Diagnosis, Images, Symptoms, Treatment Slideshow

STD Diagnosis, Images, Symptoms, Treatment Slideshow

It's not necessary to have sexual intercourse to get a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). The human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes genital warts can be transmitted by close skin-to-skin contact. Some types of HPVs cause cervical or anal cancer, and vaccines are available to protect against the most dangerous types. Other HPV types cause genital warts, which can be raised, flat, or cauliflower-shaped. HPV infection can occur in people who have no symptoms or visible warts.


HPV Symptoms

  • Genital warts can be big or small, flat or raised. They generally appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital region, and may be shaped like a cauliflower.

HPV Vaccine

  • A vaccine to prevent HPV is given in three shots. The second shot is given a month or two after the first shot. The third shot comes six months after the first shot.
  • The Centers for Disease Control recommends boys and girls be vaccinated at ages 11 or 12.
  • If they did not get the HPV vaccine as children, women can get the HPV vaccine through age 26. Men can get it through age 21. The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for men through age 26 for men who have sex with men or men with compromised immune systems, including HIV.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

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