Treponema pallidum is the bacterium that causes syphilis and is passed from one person to another through open cuts or sores. Contagious primarily during the primary and secondary states of the bacterial infection, it can also be contracted in some cases during the later stages. It can also be spread from a mother to her unborn child or from direct contact with a sore such as in kissing. It cannot be spread by contact with toilet seats or in a swimming pool or hot tub.
Individuals who have sex with multiple partners, have unprotected sex, as well as men that have sex with other men and those infected with HIV can become infected more often with syphilis. Without proper treatment, those with the infection can cause neurological problems such as strokes, visual impairment, dementia, meningitis and even deafness. Some individuals can develop cardiovascular problems and some can develop tumors or small bumps on the skin, bones, organs and liver. Mothers with syphilis can increase their chances of miscarriage as well as stillbirths.
Some of the signs and symptoms of syphilis can be hard to recognize. The primary stage of syphilis might include the appearance of a small painless sore called a chancre. This is sometimes missed because it can appear in the rectum or vagina hidden from view. This typically heals within six weeks of appearing. During the next stage of the infection, a rash may occur on the body. The rash is free from itch and often is accompanied by fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat and muscle aches. These signs may disappear and reappear over time, even spanning years. Once past these stages and left untreated, the infections become latent and can stay this way for years providing no symptoms. The symptoms might never return or they may return at a later time. There are several tests that can be done to detect syphilis including blood test, fluid test from the sore itself and cerebral spinal fluid test. When visiting with a physician, they will suggest the right course of testing based on each patients circumstances.
Syphilis is not difficult to cure if taken care of early on. The use of antibiotics such as penicillin can often handle the problem. Depending on the stage of the infection and how long the patient has had it, they may need more than one dose of penicillin. Those with Syphilis will also need to have periodic blood tests to confirm that it is gone and is not returning. The best way to prevent syphilis is to refrain from unprotected sex and avoid drug use. Make sure that if one does partake in these activities that they get a STD check regularly. Abstaining from sex or maintaining monogamy is another way to avoid the chance of syphilis infection. If one is pregnant and concerned about the chances of having syphilis, seek medical attention right away. There are many screenings that can be done to help those who feel they could be infected with the bacteria.