Know Your STDs: Syphilis

As a sexually active adult, it’s important that you have all of the sexual health information necessary to protect yourself. One way to keep your body in tip top shape is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the most common sexually transmitted infections. Today we’ll review one of the most prevalent diseases among sexually active adults: syphilis.

Facts and figures

In 2011, the CDC recorded 46,042 new cases of syphilis. That number is significantly lower than the reported incidences of gonorrhea and HIV in 2012, but still an alarmingly high figure, especially when you consider how contagious the disease is. A total of 13,970 of the new cases were of primary and secondary syphilis, which describes the time period soon after infection when the disease is most easily transmitted.

What it is and how it’s spread

According to Planned Parenthood, syphilis is a form of bacteria that is transmitted through sexual activity. It can be passed through vaginal, anal or oral sex, and can affect the lips and mouth as well.

Symptoms

Unfortunately, syphilis is sometimes called the “silent disease” because its initial symptoms are so mild that individuals may not even know they have been infected. Syphilis typically progresses through three stages, and each of these stages carries its own set of potential symptoms, Planned Parenthood reports.

In the first stage, some individuals may discover one or several painless, open or wet ulcers known as chancres. They usually show up within three weeks after the illness is transmitted, and could last for over a month unless it’s treated. These sores can be visible on the genitals, in the mouth or on the anus. For women, chancres may appear on the breasts, in the vagina or on the cervix.

The second stage occurs three to six weeks after these sores appear. Symptoms at this time may last for up to two years. If you experience rashes that exist for two to six weeks, often on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, then you may be experiencing this stage. Swollen glands, fatigue, headaches, sore throat and minor fever are other signs that may crop up at this time.

Finally, the third stage of this illness only affects individuals who have not received treatment. This period involves serious damage to the nervous system, heart, brain, or other organs.

Diagnosis and prevention

Because symptoms may be very mild, it’s a good idea to be tested for STDs regularly to help maintain your sexual health. Health care providers can run tests to detect the disease, either through a blood test or by examining a sample of any fluid extracted from open sores. Once diagnosed, patients in the early stages of this illness can receive antibiotic treatment that should take care of the illness. Those who make it to the third stage of this disease may not be able to repair the damage.

A good way to prevent syphilis is by wearing condoms each and every time you have sex. Consistent use of protection can ward off many sexually transmitted infections.

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