Courtney Weaver discusses all things syphilis – the stages, how it’s transmitted, symptoms, treatment, and prevention! For more information, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis-detailed.htm
All right, everyone. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to this week's edition of Wellbeing Wednesdays. I'm your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm also the director over at Well WVU here at West Virginia University. Now, once again, I'm without a friend today, so I'll just be talking at you just by myself which isn't so bad because when this happens, I tend to just talk about topics that I know the most about.
So we're going to continue on our small series of STI exploration. And we're going to talk today about syphilis. So before we get started, I just want to give a big shout out to the center for disease control and prevention cause they are where I got all of this information from. So let's start at the very beginning.
In case you all forgot, STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. There are three different types of STEs. There are bacterial, viral and Paris. The STRs are transmitted in a few different ways, so they can be transmitted through sexual contact. So that involves an exchange of bodily fluids direct skin to skin contact, or really like mucus membrane to mucous membrane through blood.
And then also they can be transmitted through pregnancy and or vaginal. Now not each STI is transmitted through each way, but in general, that's how they are passed on from one person to another. So now let's talk about syphilis and sort of go over a few of the basics. So syphilis is a bacterial infection, and it is traveling.
From skin-to-skin contact. Now there's also another condition called congenital syphilis. And that's when it's passed from a pregnant person to their unborn child. Now syphilis is caused by a bacteria called treponema pallidum, which I'm sure you are never going to use unless it's going to be the answer to a crossword puzzle.
But I think it's interesting. So and if syphilis is left untreated, it could actually cause some really serious health issues even. And syphilis has four stages, and I'm going to get into those four stages in just a second to speak a little bit more on transmission. So syphilis is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact.
The specifics of that are really it's transmitted from person to person by direct contact with a syphilis sore. And that's also known as a Shanker. So shankers are usually paying. And where do they show up? Well, they can show up on or around the external genitals. They can show up in the vagina, around the anus, in the rectum, and then in or around the mouth.
So transmission can occur during vaginal oral or anal sex and then pregnant folks. Can transmit the infection to their unborn child. Now, when I went over the list of where shankers tend to show up, you might've noticed they're not really always in the most noticeable of places and that can make syphilis a little bit more difficult to detect if you're not getting tested on a regular.
Yeah. When it comes to knowing when symptoms of syphilis tend to start showing on average, people start to exhibit symptoms around 21 days after exposure, but actually that date can fluctuate anywhere from between 10 to 90 days. And syphilis has been called quote, the great pretender unquote, because it's symptoms can look like many other diseases, but it does usually follow a progression of stages.
And these states, they can last for weeks, months, or even. So let's get into those stages now. So the first stage of syphilis called the primary stage, which is a very original name. But it's marked by the appearance of a single Shanker, which is what we've talked about a little bit already before, but there can also be multiple sores, but the shankers themselves, they're usually from round and painless and they show up on the location on your body.
Where syphilis actually entered. So because of the sores are painless and they occur in locations that can make them difficult to spot. They can often go on notice, especially if you're not sort of doing regularly scheduled like body checks. The shakers themselves last from three to six. And they heal regardless of whether or not a person has received any kind of treatment.
However, if the person does not receive the treatment, the infection progresses to its secondary stage. The secondary stage of syphilis is backed by skin rashes and or mucus membrane lesions, which would be sores in the mouth, vagina or anus. It typically starts with the development of a rash on one or more areas of your body.
The rashes can appear when the primary Shanker is healing or several weeks after it's healed. And usually the rash does not cause any itching. The characteristic rash of the secondary stage is appearing as rough red or reddish brown spots on the palms of your hands and the bottoms of your feet.
However, other rashes that look differently can occur in other parts of the body. Sometimes resembling rashes caused by other diseases. So remember what we said about it being the great pretender. That's one of the things that gave it, its nickname. Now some rashes are so faint that they go unnoticed. One might also develop large, raised gray or white lesions known as combi Loma, lotta in warm moist areas of the body, such as the mouth underarm or growing region.
And then in addition to rashes, other symptoms of the secondary stage can include fever. Swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy, hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. Now, once again, the symptoms of this stage will go away with, or without treatment. Now, if someone is infected with syphilis, if they go without treatment, the infection then moves into the latent and possibly tertiary stage of the infection.
So the third stage of syphilis is called the latent stage. It's actually the period of time when there are no visible signs or symptoms of syphilis, and this stage can last for years. And the last stage of syphilis is called tertiary syphilis. It is rare and it develops in a subset of untreated syphilis infections.
It can appear 10 to 30 years. Let me say it again, 10 to 30 years after the infection was first acquired and it can be fatal. So tertiary syphilis can affect multiple organ systems. So that includes the brain nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver bones, and joints, and symptoms will vary depending on which organ system is.
There are also two, I would call subsets of syphilis that happened when syphilis tends to invade other organ systems. So the first one is neurosyphilis and that's when syphilis invades the nervous system which can actually happen at any stage of the infection. So it doesn't have to wait until that tertiary stage.
And when this happens, it causes a wide range of symptoms. So those include. Altered behavior, difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, sensory deficits, and dementia. And the second subset is ocular syphilis. And so ocular syphilis can also occur at any stage of the infection and happens when syphilis basically invades the eye.
So the most common issues that you'll see is posterior uveitis and pan uveitis. And so symptoms of that can include vision changes, decreased visual acuity and permanently. So now what happens when someone is pregnant and contract syphilis? So the risk here is for the unborn infant to develop what's called congenital syphilis.
So in order to prevent syphilis from being passed to an unborn child, all pregnant. Really should get tested for syphilis at their first prenatal visit. And then some may need to get tested again during their third trimester and at delivery. And that's really dependent on if they live in areas where there's a high syphilis morbidity.
If they're previously untested, if they had a positive screening test in the first trimester, or they're just at higher risk for severe. And so a baby born with syphilis may not initially show symptoms or signs of the infection, but if they're not treated immediately, the baby may develop serious problems within a few weeks, and that can include developmental delays, seizure, and death all caused by this congenital syphilis infection.
So we've mentioned a few times about how important it is to get tested. So how do you get tested for syphilis? So it's interesting cause like all STS have different tests. Unfortunately, you can't go to your healthcare provider and be like, I want to be tested for everything right now. They'll look at you and say, that's not possible.
But the test for syphilis is actually a blood test. So you will have to get a little blood drawn now who should get tested. So any person with signs or symptoms. I suggest syphilis should be tested. If your sex partner has been recently diagnosed with syphilis, you should get tested. But really anyone who is sexually active should discuss their risk factors with the healthcare provider and ask whether they should be tested for syphilis or other STS.
So make sure that you are talking to your doctor at least at your annual visit. Just say, Hey, this is what's been going on with me. What do you recommend? Should I get tested? And what tests should those be? And now let's talk treatment. So like I mentioned, at the beginning of the episode, a syphilis is a bacterial infection.
That means that it can be cured. And what is the cure for Citi? Why it's our good old friend penicillin. It is the magic bullet. Now, if you are allergic to penicillin, there are alternate treatments, but your healthcare provider should monitor you closely. But generally bacillin is the most widely prescribed antibiotic for syphilis.
Now if you haven't done. And are undergoing treatment. First of all, it's really important that you abstain from sexual contact until the syphilis sores are completely healed, because remember that's how it's transmitted by direct contact with the syphilis sore. And then you also must notify your current sex partners so that they could be tested and receive treatment if necessary.
So. Officially overloaded you with information on syphilis and how it can progress as an illness. Now let's talk about some ways to prevent folks from contracting syphilis in the first place. So the first one is probably pretty obvious, and that would be abstaining from any kind of intimate sexual contact with other people.
Now, I mean, abstinence is a great way to protect yourself, not just from syphilis, but from any STI. And I also know that. That is not a choice that everyone wants to make, and that is okay as well. So there are also a number of other strategies that you can use to help mitigate your risk. So one strategy that you can use is to limit your number of sex partners.
And really this is from a pure. Mathematical standpoint the fewer people that you come in contact with statistically, the lower your risk. But you know, in the real world, sometimes, you know, you come in contact with one person, and it can happen or 20, and it won't. But just again, purely for mathematical, you can also make sure that you're sticking with the same sex partners and that everyone's on the same page and knows what's going on.
And that everyone is cool with that kind of arrangement. You can also use our good old friend barrier, man. So barrier methods include external condoms. You might know them as male condoms, or just condoms internal condoms, which are often called female condoms and then dental dams. So external condoms can be used on a penis or a sex toy.
Dental dams are for oral sex on the vulvar or the anus. And then internal condoms are for you. So you can actually use them for vaginal and anal intercourse. They're actually inserted into the vagina or anything. Those are all effective methods at preventing STI. Remember, since syphilis is transmitted from skin-to-skin contact there is still some risk when using a condom.
So just make sure that, you know, you're also one of the other ways that you can. Mitigate your risk is to do like regular self-checks with your bodies, because remember syphilis is transmitted by coming into contact with the Schenker. So doing regular checks, you can make sure that you're not exhibiting any signs or symptoms, because remember those shankers can hide out and like out of the way spots.
So you've got to make sure that you are taking a look at what's going on with you. And our last piece of advice for prevention which I'm sure is going to be really popular with everyone is talking with your sex partners about STI and your sexual history and your methods of protection, which is always such a fun, uncomfortable conversation.
So for those who are doing that regularly, good on ya, love it. Keep, keep on going. For those who maybe are a little hesitant about bringing that up with your partner. Remember once again, this is about your body. You only get one body, make sure you're taking care of it, how these conversations, it gets easier.
The more you do it. Sometimes like thinking about it is actually more difficult than doing the actual process. So make sure that you are having that conversation with your partner. Because as I always say, if you're mature enough to have sex, you should be mature enough to have the conversation about it.
All right. All well, that about wraps it up for me. Thank you all so much for tuning in. We really appreciate. I hope you learned something today about syphilis and that you put it, but that knowledge to good use. So again, really appreciate your time and attention, and we will catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesdays.