Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that infects more than 10 million people worldwide each year. It is commonly transmitted via sexual contact, but can also be transferred via blood products or from mother to baby. Syphillis has four main stages and the symptoms differ between these stages. In the first stage it causes lesions at the point of contact and if it is allowed to progress it can cause a number of more serious conditions, including nervous system damage. Let’s find out what causes this potentially serious condition and how it can be prevented.
What causes syphilis?
Syphilis is caused by the spiral shaped bacteria Treponema pallidum pallidum, which can be detected via blood tests or via a study of the fluid from the lesions with a dark field microscope. The most common causes are oral, vaginal and anal sex or kissing near a lesion. It is estimated that 30-60% of people exposed to syphilis will become infected with the disease.
There is no vaccine for syphilis because the outer membrane of the bacteria doesn’t have enough surface proteins for an effective antibody. This means that the only sure fire way of preventing disease is to avoid intimate contact with those infected. Using a condom during sexual contact also offers a high level of protection, but it does not completely remove the risk. In an effort to reduce the risk for unborn babies most pregnant women are tested for the disease twice during pregnancy. If they test positive for syphilis they, and their partner, are quickly treated with antibiotics.
Syphilis is treated with antibiotics, usually an injection of penicillin G or oral azithromycin. Syphilis that is resistant to antibiotics may require alternative drugs. For more information about the treatment for this disease see: How is Syphilis Treated