Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by infection with the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It can cause serious health sequelae if not adequately treated.
Check out our 38 interesting facts about syphilis:
1) It was most likely introduced to the Old World by Christopher Columbus and his men upon their return from the New World.
2) The name “syphilis” was first coined by Hieronymus Fracastorius.
3) The WHO estimates that about 10.8 million individuals between the ages of 15 and 49 had the disease in 2012, and over 5.7 million individuals contract it every year.
4) Young adults ages 20 to 35 are the highest-risk population. Also, the number of cases is rising fastest in men who have sex with men.
Causes & Transmission
5) The main cause of this sexually transmitted disease is a bacteria called Treponema pallidum, which is transmitted through contact with the sore of an infected person during sexual activity.
6) Moreover, it can be spread by kissing or by direct contact with open sores on areas, like – the mouth, lips, genitals, or breasts.
7) Also, it can be passed on by sharing injecting equipment with someone who has the infection.
8) Lastly, it may be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy or at birth, leading to congenital syphilis. Syphilis in pregnancy also causes:
- neonatal death;
- low birth weight;
9) An individual is known to have a higher syphilis risk if:
- she or he is infected with the human immunodeficiency virus;
- he is a man who has sex with other men;
- she or he has sexual intercourse with multiple partners;
- she or he engages in unprotected sex.
10) Also, men are more vulnerable to contracting the disease than women.
Symptoms of Syphilis in Men & Women
11) There are 4 stages of syphilis. Your signs and symptoms reveal the stage of the disease you’re in.
12) A syphilis sore (called a chancre) pops up — that sore is where the infection entered the body. These sores are generally firm, round, and painless, or occasionally open and wet. There’s generally only 1 sore, however, you may have more.
13) Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, anus, vagina, or in the rectum, however, they can also occur in the mouth or on the lips.
14) Because the chancre is relatively insignificant, many individuals ignore it or even remain unaware that they have been infected with this STD, particularly if the site of infection is inside the vagina.
15) The primary stage can last 1 to 5 weeks.
16) 25% of cases with the primary stage will proceed to the secondary stage of syphilis.
17) About 2 to 10 weeks after the 1st sore appears, the sufferer may experience the following:
- muscle aches
- a skin rash that causes small, reddish-brown sores. The rash can develop anywhere on the body, including on the soles of the feet and palms;
- extreme tiredness (fatigue);
- hair loss;
- weight loss;
- swollen glands;
- sores in the vagina, mouth, or anus.
18) During the latent stage, there are no visible syphilis symptoms, however, the disease is still active in the body, with the Treponema pallidum bacteria continuing to live in the spleen and the lymph nodes.
19) During the latent stage, the infection does not cause symptoms for an extended period of time, up to 20 years.
20) This final stage of the infection involves the heart and the brain and is generally no longer contagious.
21) About 33 percent of patients who had secondary syphilis reach this stage. People with tertiary syphilis may experience:
- heart problems;
- vision problems or blindness;
- loss of coordination;
- dementia symptoms;
22) It can occur at any stage of infection and can involve almost any eye structure. Nevertheless, posterior uveitis and panuveitis are the most often.
23) Symptoms include:
- permanent blindness;
- decreased visual acuity;
- changes in vision.
24) Treponema pallidum bacteria can invade the nervous system. This invasion of the nervous system is called “neurosyphilis.” Symptoms include:
- difficulty coordinating muscle movements;
- sensory deficits;
- altered behavior;
- a severe headache.
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Tuskegee Syphilis Study Facts
25) The study involved 600 black men – 399 with syphilis and 201 who did not have the infection.
26) Men were persuaded to participate in this study by promises of free hot lunches, free transportation to and from hospitals, free medical treatment for other health problems, and free burial.
27) Scientists told the men that they were to be treated for “bad blood.” In order to have their funeral costs covered, the study participants also had to agree to an autopsy after their death.
28) One of the aims of the Tuskegee study was to find out whether this infection affected black men differently from white men. More importantly, the study was designed to determine through autopsies what organs and functions untreated syphilis does to the body.
29) For 40 years the study participants were never told they had the infection and were never medically treated for it, even when penicillin became the standard treatment for syphilis in 1947.
30) In 1973, the Tuskegee study officially ended. By the time it ended, 7 men involved had died of the infection and 150 of heart failure (which may have been linked to the infection).
31) Also, 74 study participants were still alive and 19 children and 40 wives had been infected with syphilis. The last survivor died in 2004.
32) The study remains one of the most outrageous examples of disregard of basic ethical principles of conduct.
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33) A quick physical examination and blood test will show if you have the infection or not. But, if your result is negative, you will need to be re-tested, due to the fact that it can take 90 days to develop antibodies.
There is some scientific evidence to suggest that tests for this STD are not as reliable in people with HIV.
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34) Antibiotics are prescribed to treat the infection, however, the medication may not reverse the damage done by the disease.
35) For primary syphilis, 1 injection is sufficient to permanently cure this infection that once claimed so many lives.
36) It is essential to understand that if you are treated for the infection, you are likely to remain contagious for some time. Therefore, if you are getting treated, do not start having sex until your sores have healed.
37) Correct usage of latex condoms substantially reduces the risk of spreading or catching the infection. Latex condoms provide better protection than natural-membrane condoms.
38) Avoid sharing sex toys, but if you do share them, wash them properly, and cover them with a latex condom before each use.
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