Sexual contact is usually the mode of transmission for the bacterial infection of syphilis. Painless sores on the mouth, genitals or rectum is the way the disease starts. Contact with the sores via mucous or skin membranes can make this infection spread from one person to another.
After the exposure, the syphilis bacteria will undergo a latency period in the body that will last for decades before recurring again. A single injection of penicillin can cure when syphilis is on the early stage. If left untreated, syphilis can do severe damage to your brain, heart, and other organs which may even lead to death.
In the United States, since 2010, syphilis has been at lowering rates in women but has shown a rise in men especially with men having sex with men. The sores that are a part of syphilis can make infection with HIV easier which may eventually progress to AIDS.
There are stages in syphilis with each stage having different symptoms. The symptoms may not always happen in the same way and stages could sometimes overlap each other. Symptoms may not be noticed for years even when you are already infected.
A chancre or a small sore is the first sign of syphilis. The entry point of the bacteria in the body will be the spot where the sore will appear. Some people may develop several chancres while some may only have one. The chancre usually appears about three weeks after infection. Most people infected with syphilis don’t notice the sore because it is painless and may hide in the rectum or vagina. After six weeks of no treatment, the sores will disappear.
A few weeks after the healing of the chancre, a rash will be experienced that will begin on the trunk of the body which will ultimately cover the whole body extending to the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands. It is not an itchy rash and could usually be accompanied with wart-looking sores in the genital or mouth area. Some infected people may experience swollen lymph nodes, muscle pains, sore throat, and fever. Within a few weeks, the symptoms may go away or may come and go for a year.
If the syphilis is still not treated, the disease will progress to the hidden or latent stage where there will be no symptoms. This stage can last for many years where signs and symptoms may or may not recur, or the infection may lead to the third or tertiary stage.
Infected people who have never received treatment will develop serious health conditions in the late or tertiary syphilis stage. By this time, the damage that the disease has done to the body will affect your joints, brain, bones, nerves, liver, eyes, blood vessels, and heart. These health problems may happen many years after the first infection that has never been treated.
Pregnant women who have contracted syphilis will transmit the disease to their babies during birth or through the placenta. Most babies born with congenital syphilis will not show any symptoms although there will be some who will have rashes on the soles of their feet or on the palms of their hands. It will only be later when symptoms such as teeth deformities, saddle nose, a condition where the bridge of the nose crumples down, and deafness will occur.