Syphilis is a contagious, sexually transmitted disease that causes widespread tissue destruction. Syphilis is known as the "great mimic," because its symptoms resemble those of many other diseases. The genitals, skin, and central nervous system--including the brain, the coverings of the brain (meninges), and the spinal cord -- and peripheral nerves are involved. Syphilis can affect newborns (0 to 2 weeks) born to mothers with syphilis (congenital form), and it can affect persons of all ages and both sexes who have sexual contact (contagious form).
Appropriate health care includes:
Physician's monitoring of general condition, medications, and treatment.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMSA painless red sore (chancre) on the genitals, mouth, or rectum. The sore affects the penis in males and the vagina or cervix in females.
Second stage (contagious; begins 6 or more weeks after the chancre appears):
Enlarged lymph glands in the neck, armpit, or groin.
Rash on skin and mucous membranes of the penis, vagina, or mouth. The rash has small red scaly bumps.
Third stage (non-contagious; may appear years after the first and second stages):
Loss of balance.
Loss of feeling, or shooting pains in the legs.
First stage (contagious; appears 3 to 6 days after contact):
CAUSESThe congenital form is spread to the fetus through the bloodstream.
The contagious form is spread by intimate sexual contact with someone who has syphilis in the first or second stages.
The infecting germ for both forms is treponema pallidum.
Having many sexual partners.
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCE
Obtain a blood serum test for syphilis early in your pregnancy. If infected, consult your doctor immediately for treatment.
Use rubber condoms during intercourse.
Avoid any sexual contact if you suspect a partner is infectious.
Your own observation of symptoms.
Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
Laboratory studies, such as a blood serum test for syphilis, a microscopic exam of discharge from the chancre, and a study of spinal fluid. Tests are repeated after treatment.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONSWidespread tissue destruction and death without treatment.
Usually curable in 3 months with treatment. In spite of treatment, syphilis returns within 1 year in 10% of patients. If this happens, re-treatment is necessary.
HOME CAREInstructions for anyone with syphilis:
Ensure that all your sexual partners obtain treatment. The public health department will work with you to notify contacts confidentially and help them obtain treatment.
After treatment, have blood studies done each month for 6 months to check for recurrence. Then repeat blood studies every 3 months for 2 years.
Your doctor will probably prescribe penicillin unless the patient is allergic to it. If penicillin cannot be used, other antibiotics can be equally as effective.
Anyone with syphilis should avoid sexual intercourse for at least 2 months after treatment begins. Then use rubber condoms during sexual intercourse.
DIET & FLUIDS
No special diet.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?After full course of treatment and when signs of infection have decreased, appetite returns, and alertness, strength, and feeling of well-being will allow.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
Your or your child has symptoms of syphilis.
The following occurs during or after treatment: fever over 101F (38.3C); skin rash; sore throat; swelling in any joint, such as the ankle or knee.
New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.
You or your child once had syphilis and have not had a medical checkup in the past year.
You or your child have had sexual contact with someone who has syphilis.