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Syphilis Project

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF SYPHILIS

Sexually transmitted infections remain one of the leading causes of death and disability in Uganda despite the many efforts to reduce the negative affects of infectious diseases on communities.

Also, what is most surprising, unsafe sex is still a major risk factor contributing to the rise in sexually transmitted infectious.

For June, we focus on common STI that doesn’t seem to get enough attention, considering its harmful effects when left untreated. Ever heard of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse? Well, describing untreated syphilis like the 4 horsemen isn’t far from the truth!

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It is primarily transmitted through all modes of sexual contact, including vaginal and oral sex.

And more pressing, syphilis can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby, leading to congenital syphilis.

How can you tell if you have syphilis?

When someone becomes infected with syphilis, it happens in stages.

STAGE 1

The first stage begins 10 to 90 days after you have been infected. You may notice the appearance of a painless sore, known as a chancre, at the site of infection, like the genitals or mouth.

Syphilis Sore on tongue. Similar sores appear at site of infection like genitals.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/images.htm#print

On skin, It feels firm and painless, and may leak fluid which contains the syphilis causing bacteria. The sore lasts for a few weeks and heals spontaneously, even without treatment.

Because they are painless, they are often ignored. Even though the sores heal in 3 to 6 weeks, syphilis remains active, and without treatment, it progresses to the next stage. And, you can still easily spread syphilis to your partner.

STAGE 2

The next stage, if gone untreated, is what is known as the secondary stage of syphilis infection. It begins around 6 months from the sores healing and disappearing. But there are some who may enter into this stage much quicker than 6 months.

You will notice:

  • Sores on moist areas (like genitals, inside the mouth, in the throat)
  • Fever
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • Widespread rash

In some cases, the disease can spread to your nervous system. You may experience these signs and symptoms that can escalate:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Hearing loss
  • Problems with your reflexes
  • Paralysis

This secondary stage of infection can last from several weeks to several months. At the end of this stage, signs and symptoms disappear, BUT it can progress to the next stage without treatment.And yes, you are still very contagious even in the secondary stage and can pass syphilis on to your partner.

STAGE 3

Next, we enter the latent stage of syphilis. It starts once the signs and symptoms from the secondary stage disappear. Even though you may not experience any physical signs of the disease, you still have syphilis. You may go months to years without symptoms, but you can relapse into the secondary stage several times, feeling all that has been described above.

But again left untreated, you run the risk of entering the last stage of syphilis infection. It may take many years before this happens, but once you enter this stage, the signs and symptoms which can be destructive!

STAGE 4

In this last stage, syphilis attacks your organs. It grows deep into tissues, skin, liver lungs where sores eat away at the area. It can attack your heart and blood vessels, a condition called cardiovascular syphilis. And it eats away at your nerves, spinal cord and brain—neurosyphilis.

Neurosyphilis symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Neck stiffness
  • Confusion
  • Ringing in the ears or hearing loss
  • Red, irritated eyes, blurry vision, or blindness
  • Stroke
  • Weakness
  • Dementia
  • Loss of balance

At this stage, death is inevitable if syphilis if left untreated.

AND AT ALL STAGES, SYPHILIS, granted by stage 4, the damage may be irreversible.The simple answer is to GET TESTED!

What do I need to do to prevent or treat syphilis?

First and foremost, practice safe sex.

Practicing safe sex means using condoms consistently and correctly and undergoing regular STI testing that should include syphilis. There maybe several reasons why syphilis is not general thought about when thinking about prevention and treatment. One reason could be that syphilis is overshadowed by other STIs such as HIV. But, like HIV, it can be passed on to your partner and your unborn child during pregnancy. It is called congenital syphilis.

If syphilis is left untreated during pregnancy, effects of congenital syphilis can include:

  • Miscarriage (losing the baby during pregnancy)
  • Stillbirth (your baby is born dead)
  • Prematurity (your baby is born too early)
  • Low birth weight at time of birth
  • Death shortly after birth

Babies who do survive birth and test positive of congenital syphilis, without early treatment, they may experience:

  • Deformed bones
  • Severe anemia (low blood count)
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes from liver issues)
  • Brain and nerve problems like blindness of deafness
  • Skin rashes.

When getting tested for STIs, ask about getting tested for syphilis, especially if you suspect you may have been exposed.

It involves two tests, screening and diagnosis. The first test is used to see if you have antibodies against the infection. These are proteins that your immune system makes when it finds harmful substances in your body and tries to fight the harmful substances. Because your body’s response can be linked to other infections, for example, you need a second test to confirm that you have syphilis.

The second test will confirm whether the antibodies are fighting against the bacteria that cause syphilis. If positive, you have syphilis and treatment with an antibiotic begins—penicillin is the drug of choice.

If you suspect you may have been exposed to syphilis or any other STI, it is important to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Antibiotic treatment completely cures most early-stage syphilis infections, like stage 1 or 2. However, later-stage syphilis, like stage 4, is treatable with antibiotics, but this treatment can’t undo any damage that the syphilis caused.

EARLY DETECTION = EARLY TREATMENT= CURABLE

We offer confirmatory testing for syphilis. Call us at +256 701 050 328 or +256 0781 299 871, or use our contact form on our website https://lmkmedlab.org/contact-us/ to learn more.