WHAT IS SYPHILIS?
Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is a bacterial infection passed on through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person.
- Syphilis can cause serious problems if left untreated.
- You must get tested and treated as soon as possible if you suspect you or your sex partner might have syphilis.
- Syphilis can usually be cured with a short course of antibiotics.
- You can catch syphilis more than once, even if you were once treated.
- Syphilis can stay in your body unnoticed for weeks, months, or even years.
SYMPTOMS OF SYPHILIS
The symptoms of syphilis are not always noticeable and may eventually disappear; despite this, you’ll usually remain infected if not treated. Some people with syphilis have no obvious symptoms.
Symptom of syphilis may include:
- Small, painless sores or ulcers are typically seen on the pennies, vagina, or around the anus. It can also occur in other places such as the mouth.
- Small skin growths may develop on the vulva (in women) or around the anus ( in both men and women).
- A blotchy red rash on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
- White patches in the mouth
- Swollen glands in your neck, groin, or armpits.
- Pains in the joints.
If syphilis is left untreated for years, it can spread to the brain and other parts of the body, and cause severe long-term problems, which may be life-threatening. Syphilis is a subtle disease. Symptoms may not be apparent, yet it is still advancing its coast. Sometimes symptoms may show initially and vanish, only to leave the infection spread to all parts of your body, including the brain or nerves and cause serious problems, it is known to be in its tertiary stage.
At this stage you may experience:
- Heart problems
- Vision problems, including blindness
- Dementia symptoms
- Loss of co-ordination
Although syphilis is treatable at any stage, it’s most likely that the damages did ( or some damages) may be impossible to reverse.
HOW SYPHILIS IS SPREAD
Syphilis is spread mainly through close contact with an infected sore. This usually occurs during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sharing sex toys with an infected person is another avenue. A sexually active individual is potentially at risk.
- Sharing needle with an infected person
- Injecting yourself with drugs
- Through blood transfusion (with unscreened blood)
- Sharing sex toys with an infected person
- Having sex with an infected person
- Close contact with infected sores
- Anal or oral sex practices
- Men having sex with men
- The infected pregnant mother can pass on to the fetus
- Having several sex partners.
Syphilis cannot be spread by using the same toilet, clothing, beddings, cutlery, or bathroom. Using common items does not spread syphilis.
HOW TO TEST FOR SYPHILIS
The only way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested. You should get tested for syphilis if:
- You’re worried you might have syphilis or suspect your sexual partner
- A sexual partner has been diagnosed with syphilis
- You have symptoms of syphilis
- You had sex without a condom
- You have multiple sexual partners
- Are a man who has sex with men
- You had sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the past.
- Physical Examination
Your doctor will examine your genitals and other parts of your body to look for growth or rashes. He/she may ask you about symptoms you experience.
- Blood Test
This can reveal whether you have syphilis or had it in the past.
- Swab Test
A swab (similar to a cotton bud) is used to take a small sample of fluid from any sores, for a syphilis test.
- Syphilis Test Procedures:
Syphilis tests are used to screen for diagnosis of syphilis. Screening syphilis tests include:
- Rapid Plasma Reagin (RPR) Test
RPR blood test is a syphilis blood test that traces antibodies to the syphilis bacteria. Antibodies are proteins released by the immune system to fight foreign bodies, such as bacteria.
- Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) Test
VDRL blood test also checks for syphilis antibodies. VDRL test can be done with blood or spinal fluid.
If a screening test is positive, you will need additional follow-up testing to dismiss or confirm a syphilis antibody diagnosis. Most of these follow-up tests also look for syphilis antibodies, others look for actual syphilis bacteria.
Diagnosing syphilis test includes:
(These tests are used to confirm a syphilis infection)
- Treponema Pallidum Hemagglutination (TPHA) Test
TPHA test is used to diagnose syphilis by detecting the number of dissolved Palladium antibodies in a blood serum sample.
This detection is done through a hemagglutination process, which involves exposing red blood cells to T.palladium fragments. At exposure, the blood serum cells aggregate.
- Enzymes Immunoassay (EIA) Test
This blood test checks for syphilis antibodies. A positive EIA should be confirmed with either the RPR or VDRL tests.
- Treponema Pallidum Particle Agglutination Assay (TPPA)
This test checks for syphilis antibodies. It’s a follow-up test to another syphilis positive test. It is not done on spinal fluid.
- Fluorescent Treponemal Antibody Absorption (FTA-ABS) Test
This test also checks for syphilis antibodies. It can be used to find syphilis after 4 weeks of exposure. The test can be done on a sample of blood or spinal fluid.
- Dark Field Microscopy
This test looks for the syphilis germ in fluid or tissue samples gotten from an open sore. The test is used mainly to diagnose syphilis in an early (primary) stage.
- Microhemagglutination Assay (MHA-TP)
It is used to confirm a syphilis infection, following earlier syphilis positive results.
RESULTS OF SYPHILIS TESTS
Your doctor will discuss your result with you after a close study. If your screening results are negative or normal, it means no infection is found in your sample.
However, since syphilis antibodies need some weeks to develop after bacterial exposure, you may need another screening test. Get a date for a re-test.
If your screening test indicates a positive result, it shows the presence of syphilis bacteria. You will have more testing to rule out or confirm syphilis diagnosis. If the follow-up tests confirm you have syphilis, you will probably be treated.
Penicillin, a type of antibiotic, is a common and proven medication for syphilis infection.
Most early-stage (and even most later-stage) syphilis are completely cured after antibiotic treatment, but later-stage treatment can’t undo the damage already done due to delayed treatment.
COMPLICATIONS OF SYPHILIS
A complication arises when a pregnant mother with syphilis infects the Festus with syphilis bacteria. This is known as congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis can be life-threatening.
Babies born with congenital syphilis can also have the following:
- Developmental delays,
- Swollen liver or spleen, and/or infectious sores.
- It can also affect the baby’s bones, teeth, eyes, ears, or brain.
Complication on child delivery may include risk of miscarriage, still birth, or premature birth.
Syphilis cannot be easily detected. Only your doctor can know for sure whether you have syphilis. Syphilis screening and diagnosis can only assure you of the right treatment. Undergo syphilis test now if you think you have syphilis. Do not delay any further.
- What happens if you test positive for syphilis?
If the screening shows a positive result, a further test will be done to rule out or confirm the syphilis test result. If it is confirmed positive, treatment with penicillin antibiotics might give a cure. But you need to keep yourself from re-infection. Consult your doctor.
- Is syphilis 100% curable?
Syphilis is curable with quick diagnosis and treatment. But if it’s treated too late, it can permanently damage your heart and brain even after the infection is gone.
- What are the symptoms of late-stage syphilis?
Late-stage syphilis can be cured but the damage done to the body is permanent. Syphilis can invade the nervous system at any stage of infection, and cause a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, altered behavior, difficulty coordinating, muscle movements, paralysis, sensory defects, and dementia.
- Can you still test positive for syphilis after treatment?
Highly specific positive screening results must be followed by a nontreponemal antibody test to differentiate between active and past infection. These antibodies remain positive for life even after treatment.
- How long can syphilis go undetected?
If untreated, an infected person will progress to the latent (hidden) stage of syphilis. After the secondary stage rash goes away, the person will not have any symptoms for a time (latent period). The latent period may be brief as one year or range from 5 to 20years.