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Syphilis: The 3 Stages To Know About Disease.

The infection of syphilis is a growing concern in today’s world, in fact infectious syphilis diagnoses increased to 8,692 in 2022, up 15.2% compared to 2021 (7,543) and 8.1% compared to 2019 in the U.K. shockingly this is the largest annual number since 1948.

People aged 15 to 24 years remain the most likely to be diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in 2022, there were over 400 diagnoses of STIs made each day among young people. With the majority of cases being asymptomatic or unrecognised.

A bacterial infection, syphilis is highly contagious if left untreated and can have serious, long-term effects on one’s health. Despite its prevalence in today’s society, many people remain unaware of the facts about syphilis, how it spreads, and how to protect oneself from getting infected.

To address this knowledge gap, we will provide an overview of all the information you need to know about syphillis; from the symptoms to the available treatments. While the idea of discussing a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease can be uncomfortable, understanding the basics of syphilis are vital to protecting one’s health. To educate and take the guesswork out of preventing and treating syphilis, we have laid out the most important facts to give you the ultimate guide to understanding this STI.

Syphilis under a microscope.
Syphilis under a microscope.

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium known as Treponema pallidum. This bacteria is spread by sexual contact between two people, this includes kissing and close sexual contact such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It is also possible to transmit syphilis to a newborn before it is born if the mother is infected. Though it is less common now than in the past, syphilis is still a major health concern around the world. It is important to understand the different factors that can cause syphilis, the signs and symptoms of the infection, and to know how to diagnose and treat it if necessary.

Causes of Syphilis

Syphilis is spread through direct contact with a sore associated with the infection. These sores typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus. The sores can also appear in the mouth or on the lips. Syphilis can also be transmitted through contact with infected blood, such as through the sharing of needles during drug use. It is important to note that syphilis can be spread even if a person does not have any visible sores. In fact, syphilis can be spread during the primary and secondary stages of the infection, even if no sores are present. This is why it is important to practice safe sex, get tested regularly, and be aware of the signs and symptoms of syphilis.

Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis

The signs and symptoms of syphilis depend on the stage of the infection.

The initial symptoms of syphilis can appear any time from 10 days to three months after being exposed to the infection.

The most common symptom is the appearance of a small, painless sore or ulcer (called a chancre). The sore will appear on the part of the body where the infection was transmitted, typically the penis, vagina, anus, rectum, tongue, or lips. Most people only have one sore, but some people can have more.

Graphic showing the three stages of syphilis.
Graphic Showing The Three Stages Of Syphilis.

The symptoms of secondary syphilis will begin a few weeks after the disappearance of the sore. Common symptoms include:

  • A non-itchy skin rash appearing anywhere on the body, but commonly on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet,
  • Tiredness,
  • Headaches,
  • Swollen lymph glands,

Less common symptoms include:

  • Fever,
  • Weight loss,
  • Patchy hair loss,
  • Joint pains.

These symptoms may disappear within a few weeks, or come and go over months.

It is important to note that the symptoms of syphilis may be mild and go unnoticed. This is especially true in the early stages of the infection. However, if left untreated, syphilis can lead to serious health complications, including damage to the heart, brain, and other organs.

Photographs of Syphilis rash on the chest, sores on the skin and penis.
Photographs of Syphilis rash on the chest, sores on the skin and penis.

Diagnosing Syphilis

If you have any of the signs and symptoms of syphilis, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor can perform a physical exam and order blood tests to diagnose syphilis. In some cases, a sample of the sore or rash may be taken and tested in a laboratory. If syphilis is diagnosed, your doctor will discuss the treatment options with you.

The symptoms, same for men and women, develop in three stages, which are described below.

  • Stage 1 (Primary syphilis): Symptoms of syphilis begin with a painless but highly infectious sore on the genitals or sometimes around the mouth. If somebody else comes into close contact with the sore, typically during sexual contact, they can also become infected. The sore lasts two to six weeks before disappearing.
  • Stage 2 (Secondary syphilis): Secondary symptoms, such as a skin rash and sore throat develop. These symptoms may disappear within a few weeks, after which a person may experience a latent (hidden) phase with no symptoms, which can last for years. After this, syphilis can progress to its third, most dangerous stage.
  • Stage 3 (Tertiary syphilis): Around one-third of people who are not treated for syphilis will develop tertiary syphilis. At this stage, it can cause serious damage to the body.

Treating Syphilis

Treatment for syphilis depends on the stage of the infection. In the early stages of infection, a single injection of penicillin is usually enough to cure the infection. In the later stages of syphilis, longer courses of antibiotics may be needed. It is important to follow the instructions provided by your doctor and finish the full course of treatment to ensure that the infection is cured. In some cases, the symptoms of syphilis may return after the initial treatment. If this happens, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. It is also important to practice safe sex and get tested regularly to reduce the risk of getting re-infected.

The Bottom Line on Syphilis

Syphilis is a serious infection that can have long-term health effects if left untreated. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of syphilis and to seek medical attention if you think you may have been exposed to the infection. With proper treatment and regular testing, syphilis can be cured and the risk of long-term complications can be minimized.

Preventing Syphilis

  • Protected physical contact through the use of condoms reduces the risk of infection.
  • Promoting sex education among teenagers.
  • Providing awareness among the population about their sexual health especially in high risks population (high risks population involves sex workers and their partners, Intravenous drug users, truck drivers, labour migrants, refugees, and prisoners).
  • People with this disease should refrain from any sexual contact for at least 1 week after completing treatment or until the lesions of early syphilis (if they were present) are fully healed.
  • People with syphilis should also refrain from any sexual contact until sexual partners have been contacted, tested, and if indicated treated.
  • Follow-up blood tests must be done to make sure that treatment has cleared the infection.
  • Pregnant women are screened for syphilis in early pregnancy and again in late pregnancy if they are at increased risk of acquiring syphilis.
  • Testing to exclude other sexually transmitted infections is advisable.

The best way to prevent syphilis is to practice safe sex, such as using condoms or other forms of protection during sexual activity. It is also important to get tested regularly and to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have. Additionally, it is important to avoid sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia. By following these simple steps, you can reduce your risk of getting infected with syphilis and other STIs. If you have any questions about syphilis or other sexually transmitted infections, be sure to speak to your doctor. They can provide you with the information and resources you need to stay safe and healthy.

Bloody Marvellous Limited goes to great lengths to ensure that, to the best of its knowledge, the information provided on this website and its social media channels is correct at the time of publication and/or subsequent modification. This information is solely for general purposes. It has been prepared in order to provide information, education and related products/services offered by Bloody Marvellous and Associated Organisations.

Cold Sores The Causes and Consequences

Most people have heard of cold sores but not many know the full facts. Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, can be a nuisance and bothersome if you don’t take the steps to treat them correctly. But why should you? From who is affected by cold sores, what they are, when they occur, where they affect us and why. From children to adults, cold sores can linger and cause discomfort for anyone of any age.

Once the virus enters the body, the person may not realise what’s happening or why the symptoms keep coming back. Sufferers may experience physical pain, burning or itching around the mouth area and can become a serious mental burden if not dealt with properly.

Who Could Catch Cold Sores?

Unfortunately, anyone can catch cold sores but some people are more susceptible than others.

Woman smiling with cold sore on lip
Woman smiling with cold sore on lip

What Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are contagious sores that appear on the lips or around the mouth. These sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Once the virus enters the body, it travels to the nerves and remains dormant until it is triggered. Triggers for the virus to reactivate can include stress, a weakened immune system, a fever, or exposure to sunlight. When the virus is reactivated, it travels back to the skin and causes a cold sore to form. Cold sores are usually very itchy or painful.

Additionally, cold sores can cause a burning or tingling sensation in the affected area. In some cases, the virus can be asymptomatic, meaning that there are no visible signs or symptoms of the infection. In this case, it is possible for the virus to be spread to other people even if there are no visible signs or symptoms.

In rare cases, cold sores can also be caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). This can be the result of having oral sex with someone who has genital herpes.

It is essential to note that while cold sores can be uncomfortable they are not life-threatening. They typically resolve on their own within 2-4 weeks, and there are various over-the-counter medications and home remedies available to help alleviate symptoms and speed up the healing process.

When Are You Likely To Catch Cold Sores?

The virus can be spread from person to person through contact, such as kissing or sharing a drink or utensil. It can also be spread through contact with an object that has the virus on it, such as a razor or a towel.

Those who have weakened immune systems, such as with HIV/AIDS or cancer, are also more likely to experience recurrent outbreaks of cold sores.

People who are under stress or are experiencing hormonal changes are also more susceptible to outbreaks. In females it is often trigger by their menstrual cycle. Another risk factor is exposure to sunlight, as this can trigger the virus to reactivate.

Children are also at a higher risk for developing cold sores. This is because they may be exposed to the virus through contact with someone who is already infected.

Where Would They Affect You Physically And Mentally?

Most commonly the small blisters or cluster of blisters appear on or around the lips. These can develop into ulcers with grey or yellow centres. You will usually have a sore throat with or without swollen glands. You may also have bad breath (halitosis) and painful sores in your mouth.

If left untreated, cold sores can cause a few possible complications. One is that it can spread to other areas of the face or body, such as the eyes or genitals. Additionally, the virus can spread to other people, which can cause more outbreaks in the future.

Furthermore, if the virus enters the bloodstream, it can cause a more serious infection, such as encephalitis or meningitis. It is also possible for people with weakened immune systems to experience more severe symptoms of the infection.

Physically, cold sores can be quite uncomfortable and painful. The blisters can lead to itching, burning, and tingling sensations, making it difficult for individuals to eat, speak, or smile comfortably. The blisters can also be unsightly if they are in a noticeable area, such as the lips or nose.

Mentally, cold sores can also have a significant impact on an individual’s emotional well-being. The visible nature of the infection can cause feelings of shame, embarrassment, and self-consciousness, leading to anxiety and social isolation. Additionally, the discomfort and pain associated with cold sores can make it difficult for individuals to carry out their daily activities, leading to feelings of frustration and helplessness.

Woman with sore throat
Woman with sore throat

Why Does It Matter To Deal With Cold Sores?

If you have cold sores that do not go away after a few days, or if they become more painful or start to spread, it is important to see a doctor. Additionally, if you develop any other symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes or a sore throat, it is important to seek medical attention.

A doctor can diagnose the virus and recommend a treatment plan. It is also important to see a doctor if you have HIV or cancer, as these conditions can weaken the immune system and make it more likely for cold sores to occur. Additionally, if you experience any vision changes or if your cold sores spread to other areas of the body, it is important to see a doctor for further evaluation.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cold Sores

In order to diagnose cold sores, a doctor may perform a physical examination of the affected area and order a blood test to check for the presence of the virus. Once the virus has been identified, the doctor can recommend a treatment plan. The most common treatment option is to take an antiviral medication, such as acyclovir, to help reduce the symptoms and speed up the healing process. In addition to medication, there are a few things a person can do to help manage their cold sores. One is to keep the affected area clean and dry, and to avoid touching or picking at the blisters. It is also important to avoid sharing items such as utensils or towels with others, as this can spread the virus. Additionally, wearing sunscreen on the lips can help protect them from the sun’s UV rays, which can trigger the virus.

How to Manage Cold Sores

If you do get a cold sore, it is important to take steps to manage it. The first step is to treat it with an antiviral medication, such as acyclovir. Additionally, it is important to keep the affected area clean and dry, and to avoid touching or picking at the blisters. Applying a cold compress to the affected area can also help reduce swelling and discomfort. Additionally, it is important to get enough rest and to practice stress relief techniques, such as yoga or meditation. It is also important to avoid sharing items with others, such as utensils or towels, to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, it is important to practice safe sex, as this can help prevent the spread of the virus. Lastly, it is important to eat a balanced diet and to stay hydrated to help keep the immune system strong.

Bloody Marvellous Limited goes to great lengths to ensure that, to the best of its knowledge, the information provided on this website and its social media channels is correct at the time of publication and/or subsequent modification. This information is solely for general purposes. It has been prepared in order to provide information, education and related products/services offered by Bloody Marvellous and Associated Organisations.