Health Insight by Adesola Brand



Sexually transmitted infections/diseases are basically spread from person to person via sexual intercourse or oral genital contact and sometimes, in non-sexual ways.

An infection is frequently the initial step which occurs when bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms that causes sickness enters an individual and starts to increase. On the other hand, a disease occurs when cells in an individual’s body are harmed, as a result, sickness show up. There are various types of STD’s, however, we will be focusing more  on syphilis.

Syphilis is a contagious disease caused by the Spirochete of the Genera TREPONEMA. It may be Venereal (Sexually transmitted) or Congenital (acquired from uterus of mother). Venereal syphilis is usually caused by the bacterium Treponemapallidium. It is more common in men than women, and patients are usually about 20-45 years old. Venereal syphilis can be very serious and may lead to death at a long range if left untreated. The bacteria can be passed from person to person through direct contact with the syphilis sore (chancre). Sores mainly occur on the external genitalia, vagina, anus or rectum. Sores can also occur on the lips and in the mouth. Transmission of the organism occurs during vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Syphilis can be diagnosed by microscopy, positive serology on blood or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), or non-specific treponemal tests. Organisms may not be cultured but diagnosis cannot be determined by clinical findings only.

In the initial stage of syphilis infection, after an incubation period of about 10days to 3weeks or more, the patient gets a sore (chancre), small, usually painless and reddened with a hard ridge, at the point of entry of the bacterium, consisting of the bacteria. The chancre lasts 1-5 weeks and heals on it own. In females, the chancre may be internal and won’t be visible. Symptoms of syphilis usually appear 10-90 days after contact. Contact with the chancre during sexual contact may result in disease transmission. In about one-third of the cases, the disease does not progress further and the chancre disappears. The bacteria typically enter the blood streams and are distributed through out the body, it heals spontaneously in 3-6 weeks. If untreated 1-12 weeks later, lesions of secondary syphilis will start to appear. Benzathine Penicillin may be used to treat the first 3 stages of syphilis, however, patients should be asked about penicillin allergy during prescription.

The second stage lasts 3-6 weeks and may be followed by a copper-colored skin rash  which may appear on the palms of the hands, soles of feet, or in more severe cases, covers the entire body. The rash may be accompanied by fever, headaches, indigestion, loss of appetite, or loss of hair on spots over the scalp.

The 3rd stage is usually called the latent stage. All symptoms disappear and the patient believes he/she is cured of the disease. If treatment is not received, the bacterium remains in the body and begins to damage the internal organs including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints.

The 4th stage, the tertiary stage of syphilis infection is the result of the untreated internal damage caused by the Spirochete. It may take 10-30 years after the initial infection. It results in sudden heart attack, failure of vision, loss of motor coordination or mental disturbances. Later stages of syphilis are more difficult to treat with drugs and require much larger doses over a longer period.

Syphilis is not highly contagious, and there  is only about 10% chance of acquiring it from a single exposure to an infected partner. Immunocompromised patients (these are people with an impaired immune system, may be due to a disease e.g HIV, Age factor etc.) are at higher risk of contacting syphilis.

Awareness is a very important preventive measure for STDs. Also, prompt and adequate treatment of infections can help control the spread of diseases. It is also important to know that immunity to syphilis is not complete, in other words, subsequent infections can occur. Condoms are a very good way to prevent STDs but ABSTINENCE is the best prevention. However, it is very important to limit your partners and always visit the doctor in case of any abnormalities. Please take note that, prevention is better and cheaper than Cure.

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