Having sex with an infected person can transmit syphilis. Syphilis is caused by the bacteria called Treponema pallidum. The infection can enter the body through oral, vaginal, anal sex which can come in contact with an infected sore.
Sharing a needle with someone who is infected is another way of contracting syphilis.
An infected mother can pass the infection to her baby. It can cause serious health complications for the baby and mother if left untreated, leading to stillbirth or miscarriage.
You cannot get infected by syphilis when you share the same bathroom, toilet, utensils, and clothing with an infected person as bacteria cannot survive outside the body.
Phases of the infection
There are three phases in the development of syphilis and they are:
- Primary syphilis or phase 1
Painless but very infectious sores can sometimes grow on the mouth, but more often on the genital area. Having close contact with the sores during sex can infect another person. The sore disappears after two to six weeks.
- Secondary syphilis or phase 2
Development of a sore throat and skin rashes happen in this phase. After a few weeks, the symptoms disappear but do not leave. It will lie dormant in the body for many years which is called the latency or hidden period. If still untreated, it will progress to the most dangerous phase which is phase 3.
- Tertiary syphilis or phase 3
Untreated syphilis will eventually progress to phase 3 or tertiary syphilis. This phase can cause serious medical problems to the body.
The most infectious phases of syphilis are the primary and secondary. During the latency phase which can happen about two years after being infected, the disease cannot infect other people.
If syphilis is diagnosed at onset stage, penicillin injections are the standard medical treatment given. A course of antibiotics can be another medical treatment. Your doctor will know what treatment will best apply to your case.
If syphilis is left untreated, it could cause serious diseases such as blindness, paralysis, stroke, and, eventually, death.
One of the leading complications to syphilis is the high chance of becoming infected with HIV. Syphilis causes genital sores that easily bleed making it a gateway for the virus from HIV to enter the blood during sex.
Having both HIV and syphilis infections can bring about serious health complications to the body because syphilis could rapidly progress to the tertiary phase compared to the normal progression of the disease.
The only way to avoid getting infected with syphilis is to have sex with a single uninfected partner that has been tested or to abstain from sex.
You can also reduce the chances of acquiring the infection by:
- Not sharing needles, or sex toys
- Safe sex practice which is by using a female or male condom during anal, vaginal or oral sexual activities
- Using a plastic square or dental dam during oral sex
If you think that you have acquired syphilis visit STD test centers, clinics, hospitals or sex health organizations as soon as possible. Serious health conditions can be prevented when syphilis is treated earlier.