What is Syphillis?

Syphillis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the organism, Treponema pallidum. Syphillis is spread by direct contact with infectious lesions such as ulcers.

There are four stages of syphillis: primary, secondary, latent and tertiary.

Primary syphillis occurs 2-6 weeks after infection. It is characterized by a single or multiple painless ulcers (chancre) at the site of infection. There may be enlarged lymph nodes that feel rubbery and are painless.

Secondary syphillis occurs 2-6 months after primary syphillis. It is characterized by different signs and symptoms e.g. non itchy rashes on both sides, mucous membrane lesions, loss of hair and enlarged lymph nodes.

Latent syphillis is an asymptomatic phase with no clinical signs of organ involvement.

Tertiary syphillis occurs 5-10 years after secondary syphillis and can involve the heart and the brain.

These four stages only occur if syphillis is not detected early enough and treated appropriately. Due to the varying severity of symptoms, syphillis may remain undetected for many years until the heart and brain are involved.

Incubation Period of Syphillis

Incubation period is 2-6 weeks for primary syphillis.

Symptoms of Syphillis

  • Painless Genital Ulcers, Single or Multiple
  • Painless Enlarged Lymph Nodes, usually in the groin area
  • Non itchy rashes on both arms, legs or body
  • Discolourations, pigmentation or multiple ulcers in the mouth and lips
  • Loss of hair

Testing for Syphillis

Diagnosis of syphillis is usually confirmed by blood tests (VDRL, TPHA).

Treatment for Syphilis

An antibiotic injection is the treatment of choice for all stages of syphilis. The duration of treatment may vary from one weekly to three weekly injections depending on severity. Alternative oral treatment antibiotic regimes are available.

Follow Up of Syphillis

Follow-up should be done at 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and 24 months. If repeat tests fail to show a decrease in titres, then a retreatment is required.

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