WHAT IS SYPHILIS? | Dr. Yeibake Weriwoyingipre Silver

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria known as Treponema pallidum. According to the WHO, in 2020 alone, 7.1 million new cases were acquired. The infection primarily spreads through sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. In some cases, it can also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn child during pregnancy or through blood transfusions.

Syphilis progresses in stages, and each stage has its own set of symptoms. The primary stage is characterized by the appearance of a painless sore called a chancre at the site of infection, typically on the genitals, anus, or mouth. If left untreated, syphilis progresses to the secondary stage, where symptoms may include a rash, flu-like symptoms (cough, runny nose, muscle pains, sore throat, headache, tiredness), swollen lymph nodes, hair loss, and fever. After this stage, the infection enters a latent stage where no symptoms are present, but the bacteria is still present in the body.

If it remains untreated, syphilis can progress to the tertiary stage, which can develop years later. Tertiary syphilis can cause severe damage to various organs and tissues, including the brain, heart, blood vessels, and bones. It can lead to serious complications such as neurosyphilis (abnormal walking or inability to walk, numbness in toes, feet, or legs, mental confusion, difficulty thinking, headaches, convulsions, stiff neck, loss of ability to control urination, blindness), cardiovascular syphilis (cough, difficulty in breathing, tiredness at rest, chest pain, body swelling), and gummatous syphilis (soft cancer-like growth in patients with syphilis).

Fortunately, syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotics. It is important to receive early diagnosis and prompt treatment to prevent the progression of the disease and potential complications. Regular STI testing, practicing safe sex, and using barrier methods (such as condoms) can help reduce the risk of acquiring syphilis and other STIs.

Dr. Yeibake Weriwoyingipre Silver  
Senior Registrar, 
Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa.

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