Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium known as Treponema Pallidum. In the United States, there are about 30,000 cases of reported syphilis every year. In some cases, the infection is transferred to infants when the mother is infected. The vast majority of cases occur in sexually active individuals between 20 to 40 years of age. Statistically, the number of infections in men is three times the number of infections in women.
The infection is passed from person to person through contact with a sore caused by the infection. After infection, these sores can occur on the outside of the genitals and lips or inside the mouth, vagina, anus, or rectum. It is not possible for the infection to spread by indirect contact.
When a person first becomes infected, they might not show symptoms for several years. However, when symptoms first occur it is in the form of one or more chancres (sores). These sores are usually round, small, and painless, occurring at or very near the place of infection. This will heal in three to six weeks without any type of treatment being administered.
After the infection progresses, rashes will occur on different parts of the body, often taking the form of brown spots on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The victim may also experience fevers, swollen lymph glands, a sore throat, hair loss, headaches, loss of weight, fatigue, and muscular aches. These symptoms will, like the prior symptoms, eventually disappear without any treatment, although the bacterial infection continues to worsen.
Once the infection has reached the final stage, there will be no obvious symptoms. The bacteria will continue to damage different parts of the body, including internal organs, joints, the brain, eyes, heart, and liver. It may take many years for this damage to become obvious and the victim may have difficulty with coordination, paralysis, blindness, numbness, and dementia. If the infection exists long enough, it can cause the eventual death of the victim.
In the case of infected babies, the child will likely either be a stillbirth or die shortly after being born. The baby might also be born without any symptoms, but will experience sever complications and possibly die if not treated in time.
A person can be diagnosed with syphilis by examination of the contents from a sore for the presence of the bacteria. Blood checks can also be performed to detect the presence of syphilis. If detected, antibiotics can be administered to destroy the bacteria and restore the person to better health. The only way to prevent yourself from contracting syphilis is to practice abstinence, although using a condom can greatly reduce the risk of transmission.