Syphilis has been around for centuries and currently affects more than 100,000 Americans. It is spread through sexual contact, including intercourse, anal sex, oral sex, and kissing.
People often think of syphilis as an obsolete sexually transmitted disease (STD); it is, after all, famously referred to by William Blake in his poem “The Sick Rose,” which was composed in the late 1700s. The sad fact is, though, that syphilis has stood the test of time.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported a dramatic increase in the number of infants born with syphilis. This increase in infant syphilis is likely due to the fact that there has been a 38 percent increase in the number of female syphilis cases. (When a mother has syphilis, she can pass it on to her unborn infant.)
Syphilis begins with a small sore, which is called a chancre. The chancre will be located somewhere on your body, depending on the site of infection (anus, penis, vagina, mouth, etc.). Some people develop more than one chancre, while others exhibit only one. In some cases, the chancre isn’t even visible to the naked eye, as it might be hidden within the rectum or genitals, where the person cannot see it. And, in most cases, the chancre is not very painful and soon goes away. However, even though it disappears, this is not the end of syphilis. Instead, it is the harbinger of things to come; and the longer you wait to treat the syphilis, the worse it will be for you.
Once the sore heals (even if you don’t seek treatment, it will go away on its own), the second stage of syphilis begins, which causes flu-like symptoms such as fever or a sore throat. This stage is also accompanied by a full-body rash, which can spread from the bottom of your feet to the tips of your fingers. The length of this stage is unique to each individual. Some people experience these symptoms for a few weeks, while others might experience symptoms on and off for months.
If left untreated, syphilis progresses, moving onto the latent stage, in which symptoms disappear. This latent stage can last for years; however, this does not mean that you’re cured. In fact, after the latent stage ends, syphilis then moves into its most dangerous stage of all, the late stage, which can have fatal results. Not everyone moves into the late stage (only around 15 percent to 30 percent do), but those people can be faced with everything from blindness to death. Other threats include paralysis, dementia, and damage to organs like the liver, bones, eyes, and heart.
Clearly, syphilis is not an STD to be dealt with lightly, but the good news is, if you get tested and treated, syphilis can be easily cured. Condoms can help to protect you from contracting syphilis, as can other safer sex practices, and receiving regular STD testing from your doctor is a must. Remember, you are responsible for protecting your body and safeguarding yourself from STDs such as syphilis. If you don’t take these precautions to protect yourself, who will?