Syphilis Overview

  • The bacterium Treponema Pallidum, discovered in 1905 is the organism that causes syphilis
  • People are its only host
  • This disease has no vectors
  • Modes of transmission:
    • Sexual contact (vaginally, anally, or orally) with an infected person
    • Contact with the broken skin of a person who is infected with syphilis (this is unlikely, but still possible)
    • Syphilis can be passed to an unborn child from their infected mother
  • Research has shown that males are 60% more likely to contract syphilis than females
  • Syphilis is referred to as "the great imitator" because its symptoms can appear to be symptoms of other diseases and sicknesses such as drug eruption, infectious mononucleosis, or pityriasis rosea (McCutchan)
  • Also referred to as "the French Disease"
  • The sores that apear on the body as a result of being infected by this disease are called chancres >
  • Most people won’t show symptoms for years.
o Primary stage-A sore called a chancre will appear which is round, small, and painless. It will last three to six weeks and will heal but if treatment is not given the infection will continue to the second stage.
o Secondary stage-Rashes will appear in one or more than one area of the body. The rash can appear while the chancre is healing or weeks after it is healed. The rash is rough, red, or reddish brown spots on hands and feet but other rashes could appear other places around the body. Other symptoms the will appear with the secondary stage is fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. These symptoms will heal its self if treated or not treated however, if it is not treated the infection will continue to the later stages of the disease.
o Latent stage-This stage will happen when all the symptoms of the primary and secondary stages are gone. Even though there are no symptoms the infection is still present in the body. In this stage of syphilis the symptoms include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia . The symptoms may cause death.
  • Incubation period:
    • Lasts from the moment of infection until the appearance of sores or chancres
    • The average length of the incubation period is 3-4 weeks, but has been known to vary from 10 to 80 days
  • This is a full History of Syphilis
  • The three types of syphilis are gummatous syphilis, cardiovascular syphilis, and neurosyphilis.
    • In gummatous syphilis lesions called gummas , which are noninfectious, are present. They are mainly found in the skin, bones, and liver but can also affect any organ.
    • Cardiovascular syphilis will occur around 10 years after the primary infection. The most common result of this type of syphilis is aneurysm formation in the aorta from which valve insufficiency could happen.
    • Neurosyphilis has effects such as seizures, atazia, aphasia, paresis, personality and cognitive changes, visual changes, hearing loss, neuropaths, and loss of bowel and bladder functions.
  • Until the 20th century mercury in forms of ointments, steam baths, pills, and others were used to treat syphilis. There were unpleasant side effects from the mercury that include tooth loss; mouth, throat, and skin ulcerations; neurological damage, or death. In present time a single injection of penicillin, an antibiotic, can cure a person infected for a year or less. If the person has been infected for over year more doses of the antibiotic is necessary. This treatment will kill bacteria and prevent future damage but will not cure previous damage.
  • Twenty percent of untreated patients with tertiary syphilis die of the disease

The video on the left is a video on the controversial Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, which started in the 1930s. The second

video on the right is a video that describes the basics of syphilis.

Chancres from syphilis located on the hands

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Secondary Syphilis on the foot

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