Syphilis is one of the more prevalent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and it can cause, in later stages, damage to the muscles, brain, and other major internal organs. It is caused by the bacterium, Trepodema Pallidum, and is very dangerous. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause stillbirth or death within a few days to a newborn. This disease also increases a person's risk level for contracting HIV. Those who have syphilis sores are two to five times more likely to contract HIV from an infected partner.
There are three distinct stages of syphilis, the first of which can go unnoticed by those affected. Primary infection can occur anywhere between 10 days to three months after contraction of the bacteria. The first indication is a single sore called a chancre. The sore is usually painless, and may heal without treatment, and thus never be noticed. Occasionally, the primary stage will cause multiple sores, which is good, in a way, as it may get people to see a medical professional more immediately.
The secondary stage occurs after the chancre has healed. It is characterized by a red to reddish brown rash that does not itch, and which may be present on the palms and soles of the feet. Those affected by it may also experience muscle aches, fever, swollen glands, sore throat, weight loss, headaches, and/or a feeling of general fatigue. Again, these symptoms can resolve without treatment. If the person who has them suspects exposure to syphilis, these symptoms warrant quickly seeing a medical professional, who can diagnose the illness through a simple blood test. In the primary stage, the diagnosis may also be made through blood test or by analyzing the chancre.
Early diagnosis is key, since it's important to prevent the late stage of the disease, which manifests after the secondary stage symptoms have ended. Late stage syphilis can cause terrible deterioration of the muscles, organs, and brain. It can cause dementia, blindness, or paralysis. The disease may take many years to progress to this point, but advanced cases may cause irreversible damage to the body. Further damage can be avoided by treating the illness.
If someone is diagnosed within a year of having contracted the bacteria, the treatment is a single shot of penicillin, although other antibiotics may be used in case of penicillin allergy. After a year, the shot will be followed with a course of oral antibiotics for several weeks. This effectively cures the illness, but it does not prevent the patient from contracting it again.
Recent studies show that contraction of syphilis is on the rise, particularly in the male population. This is alarming because it suggests that those people are not using safe sex practices, which tend to keep them from contracting the illness. The best defense against the disease is to avoid casual sex and not to engage in sex with a partner who has not been tested for STDs. Long-term monogamous relationships, or abstention from sex in the absence of such, are the best ways to avoid contracting STDs.
Even in long-term exclusive sexual relationships, protection should still be used, in the form of a male or female condom, which can help one avoid contact with skin cells that may harbor STDS. Any type of sexual contact can result in contraction of syphilis. Many young people believe that safety lies in oral sex or mutual masturbatory activities. This is not true. People can contract the disease from oral sex practices as well as from standard intercourse.