Un­der­stand­ing syphilis

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - SOCIETY -

In the sec­ond quar­ter of 2018, a to­tal of 42 695 peo­ple were treated for sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions (STIs). While this is a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease from the 44 889 pa­tients recorded in the first quar­ter, the fig­ure is still too high. It is ad­vis­able to use con­doms to avoid con­tract­ing STIs and HIV. This week, we bring you in­for­ma­tion on one com­mon STI syphilis. The Na­tional AIDS Coun­cil (NAC) has over the years been buy­ing syphilis test kits to en­sure that peo­ple get the cor­rect test and are treated for the in­fec­tion. NAC also con­tin­ues to en­cour­age cor­rect and con­sis­tent con­dom use to pre­vent the spread of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions (STIs), in­clud­ing HIV.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion that can cause long-term com­pli­ca­tions if not treated cor­rectly. Symp­toms in adults are di­vided into stages. These stages are pri­mary, sec­ondary, la­tent, and late syphilis.

How is syphilis spread?

You can get syphilis by di­rect con­tact with a syphilis sore dur­ing vagi­nal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found on the pe­nis, vagina, anus, in the rec­tum, or on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an in­fected mother to her un­born baby.

What does syphilis look like?

Syphilis has been called ‘the great im­i­ta­tor’ be­cause it has so many pos­si­ble symp­toms, many of which look like symp­toms from other dis­eases. The pain­less syphilis sore that you would get af­ter you are first in­fected can be con­fused for an in­grown hair, zip­per cut, or other seem­ingly harm­less bumps. The non-itchy body rash that de­vel­ops dur­ing the sec­ond stage of syphilis can show up on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, all over your body, or in just a few places. Syphilis can also af­fect the eye and can lead to per­ma­nent blind­ness. You could also be in­fected with syphilis and have very mild symp­toms or none at all.

How can I re­duce my risk of get­ting syphilis?

The only way to avoid STIs is to not have un­pro­tected vagi­nal, anal, or oral sex.

If you are sex­u­ally ac­tive, you can do the fol­low­ing things to lower your chances of get­ting syphilis: Be­ing in a long-term mu­tu­ally monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ship with a part­ner who has been tested and has neg­a­tive STI test re­sults; Cor­rect and con­sis­tent use of con­doms every time you have sex. Con­doms pre­vent trans­mis­sion of syphilis by prevent­ing con­tact with a sore. Some­times sores oc­cur in ar­eas not cov­ered by a con­dom. Con­tact with these sores can still trans­mit syphilis.

Am I at risk for syphilis?

Any sex­u­ally ac­tive per­son can get syphilis through un­pro­tected vagi­nal, anal, or oral sex. Have an hon­est and open talk with your health care provider and ask whether you should be tested for syphilis or other STIs. You should get tested reg­u­larly for syphilis if you are preg­nant or have part­ner(s) who have tested pos­i­tive for syphilis.

I am preg­nant. How does syphilis af­fect my baby?

If you are preg­nant and have syphilis, you can pass the in­fec­tion to your un­born baby. Hav­ing syphilis can lead to a low birth weight baby. It can also make it more likely for you to have a pre­ma­ture de­liv­ery or to have a still­birth (a baby born dead). To pro­tect your baby, you should be tested for syphilis dur­ing your preg­nancy and at de­liv­ery and re­ceive im­me­di­ate treat­ment if you test pos­i­tive. An in­fected baby may be born with­out signs or symp­toms of the dis­ease. How­ever, if not treated im­me­di­ately, the baby may de­velop se­ri­ous prob­lems within a few weeks. Un­treated ba­bies can have health prob­lems such as cataracts, deaf­ness, or seizures, and can die. Sec­ondary rash from syphilis on palms of hands.

How do I know if I have syphilis?

Symp­toms of syphilis in adults can be di­vided into stages:

Pri­mary stage

Dur­ing the first (pri­mary) stage of syphilis, you may no­tice a sin­gle sore, but there may be mul­ti­ple sores. The sore is the lo­ca­tion where syphilis en­tered your body. The sore is usu­ally firm, round, and pain­less. Be­cause the sore is pain­less, it can eas­ily go un­no­ticed. The sore lasts 3 to 6 weeks and heals re­gard­less of whether or not you re­ceive treat­ment. Even though the sore goes away, you must still re­ceive treat­ment so your in­fec­tion does not move to the sec­ondary stage.

Sec­ondary stage

Dur­ing the sec­ondary stage, you may have skin rashes and/or sores in your mouth, vagina, or anus (also called mu­cous mem­brane le­sions). This stage usu­ally starts with a rash on one or more ar­eas of your body. The rash can show up when your pri­mary sore is healing or sev­eral weeks af­ter the sore has healed.

The rash can look like rough, red, or red­dish brown spots on the palms of your hands and/or the bot­toms of your feet. Usu­ally, the rash will not itch and it is some­times so faint that you will not no­tice it. Other symp­toms you may have can in­clude fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, mus­cle aches, and fa­tigue (feel­ing very tired). With­out the right treat­ment, your in­fec­tion will move to the la­tent and pos­si­bly late stages of syphilis. Sec­ondary rash from syphilis on torso

Can syphilis be cured?

Yes, syphilis can be cured with the right an­tibi­otics from your health care provider.

Be­cause syphilis sores can be hid­den in the vagina, anus, un­der the fore­skin of the pe­nis, or in the mouth, it may not be ob­vi­ous that a sex part­ner has syphilis. Un­less you know that your sex part­ner(s) has been tested and treated, you may be at risk of get­ting syphilis from an un­treated sex part­ner. Use a con­dom cor­rectly and con­sis­tently!

( Adapted from: http://www.cdc.gov/std/ syphilis/std­fact-syphilis)

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