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Syphilis is on the rise, what you should know

Syphilis (Photo Source: CDC.GOV)

When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, Syphilis was once thought of as being in decline. However, recent information released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown that the disease is once more on the rise. There are four stages of syphilis and each stage has a different set of symptoms:

Stage 1- Primary Stage

A usually painless sore called a chancre develops at the site where the infection entered the body. The sore can develop 10-90 days after exposure.

In men, the chancre usually but not always appears on the penis. The sore is often painless. In women, chancres can develop on the outer genitals or on the inner part of the vagina. A chancre may go unnoticed if it occurs inside the vagina or at the opening to the uterus (cervix). The sores are usually painless and are not easily seen.
Swelling of the lymph nodes may occur near the area of the chancre. The sore lasts about 9-6 weeks and will leave a small scar when healed. However, the person is still infected.

Stage 2 -Secondary Stage

A rash often develops over the body and commonly includes the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The rash usually consists of reddish brown, small, solid, flat or raised skin sores that are less than 2 cm across. But the rash may look like other more common skin problems

Small, open sores may be present on mucous membranes. The sores may contain pus. Moist sores that look like warts (called condyloma lata) may be present. In people of color, the sores may be a lighter color than the surrounding skin. The rash usually heals within two months on its own without scarring. The rash indicates the person is highly infectious and the disease has spread through the body. Because of this, a person may experience:

  • A fever of usually less than 101°F (38.3°C).
  • A sore throat.
  • A vague feeling of weakness or discomfort throughout the body.
  • Weight loss.
  • Patchy hair loss, especially in the eyebrows, eyelashes, and scalp hair.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes.

Nervous system symptoms of secondary syphilis, which can include neck stiffness, headaches, irritability, paralysis, unequal reflexes, and irregular pupils. If untreated, an infected person will progress to the latent (hidden) stage of syphilis. The latent stage is defined as the year after a person becomes infected. After the secondary-stage rash goes away, the person will not have any symptoms for a time. The latent period may be as brief as 1 year or range from 5 to 20 years.

Stage 3- Tertiary Stage

This is the most destructive and painful stage of the disease. It can occur one year after a person has been infected or at any point in a person’s life when the disease is left untreated. During this stage a person may suffer serious blood vessel and heart problems, mental disorders, blindness, nerve system problems, and even death.  Complications include:

  • Gummata, which are large sores inside the body or on the skin.
  • Cardiovascular syphilis, which affects the heart and blood vessels.
  • Neurosyphilis, which affects the nervous system.

Congenital syphilis

Congenital syphilis refers to syphilis passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy or during labor and delivery. The symptoms include:

  • A highly contagious watery discharge from the nose.
  • Painful inflammation.
  • Contagious rash that frequently appears over the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
  • Reduced red blood cells in the blood (anemia).
  • Enlarged liver and spleen.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes.
  • Failure to grow and develop normally (failure to thrive).

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