Treponema pallidium is the bacteria that cause syphilis, an STD or sexually transmitted disease. The infection is called venereal syphilis when it is sexually transmitted which is usually the case for the disease. It is also known as congenital syphilis when the infection has been passed over to an infant by an infected mother.
The 1950s was the time when penicillin became widely available which turned syphilis into an uncommon sexually transmitted disease. Yet, statistics still show new infections of 10 million every year.
There are no variations in symptoms for both men and women infected with syphilis. The symptoms are mild and hard to distinguish or recognize from other STDs. After exposure to the infection, it could take up to 3 months before symptoms begin to appear. The three stages of syphilis make it a slow progressing disease. The highly contagious stages of syphilis are its primary and secondary stages.
Stage 1 or Primary stage
There will be an appearance of one or more painless sores at the place where the bacteria of syphilis gained entry to the body. The sores make an appearance usually after 21 days after exposure. The sores are highly contagious and very hard to notice. The usual places where sores grow will be:
- Around the mouth and anus for both men and women
- In women, on the neck of the womb or cervix or outside the vagina or on the vulva
- In men, on the penis
After 2 to 6 weeks, the sores start to heal even without treatment.
The infection will progress to the secondary stage if it is still untreated.
Stage 2 or secondary stage
After 3 to 6 weeks from the appearance of sores and infection is still not treated, it will now progress to the secondary stage. The symptoms will be:
- Patchy hair loss
- Swollen glands, flu-like symptoms, loss of appetite, and fatigue that lasts for weeks and even months
- The roof of the mouth or the tongue will show white patches
- Rashes that are not itchy will appear in patches or cover the entire body
- The anus in both men and women or the vulva in women will show warty-looking flat growths
This stage is highly contagious which can be sexually transmitted to a sex partner. After a few weeks, the symptoms may disappear but it will recur for years.
The infection will be cured if treatment is done to these two stages of syphilis.
Stage 3 or tertiary or latent stage
If syphilis is still untreated, the disease will progress to the last stage. It is also called the latent stage as the infected person will not experience any symptoms at this time.
After 10 years and infection is still not treated, it will develop into the tertiary stage or symptomatic late syphilis phase. This stage will cause serious health conditions affecting the nervous system and the heart.
Treatment for the latent stage could still be possible, but the nervous system or heart damages that have occurred will be irreversible.