Understanding Syphilis


Syphilis is a common type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacteria that primarily spreads through sexual contact, whether oral, anal, or vaginal sex. The initial manifestation of syphilis is a painless sore that typically appears around the genitals, rectum, anus, or mouth. An infected mother can also pass this condition to her baby during pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in congenital syphilis.

Once the infection occurs, the bacteria can persist in the body for an extended period without any symptoms. If left untreated, syphilis can progress to cause damage to various organs in the body, including the heart, brain, and other organs. Fortunately, appropriate medication can effectively treat the infection.

What Causes Syphilis?

Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It enters the body through minor breaks or scrapes in the skin. Additionally, mucous membranes exposed to infected sores or bodily fluids can facilitate transmission.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis?

The signs and symptoms of syphilis may vary depending on the stage of the infection: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Each stage presents its own symptoms.

  • Primary Stage: A small, painless sore called a chancre appears at the site of infection, usually on the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth, within 9 to 90 days following infection. This sore may remain unnoticed or may appear as a harmless growth or bump. It typically lasts between three and six weeks and heals without treatment.
  • Secondary Stage: Individuals may experience a non-itchy, scaly rash on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet during this stage. It can sometimes spread all over the body and appear as red or brownish spots. Other accompanying symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, patchy hair loss, lethargy, and headaches, which occur between three weeks and six months after infection. These symptoms may improve or subside over time without treatment.
  • Latent Stage: In this stage, infected individuals show no visible signs or symptoms; and this stage can last for years.
  • Tertiary Stage: Tertiary syphilis is very serious and manifests about 10 to 30 years after infection. This is often accompanied by severe health complications affecting the heart, brain, eyes, blood vessels, liver, and joints. In some cases, it may cause internal organ damage, neurological disorders, mental illness, blindness, dementia, heart disease, or even death.

How is Syphilis Diagnosed?

If you suspect you may have syphilis, consult a doctor promptly, who will perform a physical examination, as well as discuss your symptoms and sexual history. Further tests may also be performed, such as:

  • Blood Tests: Blood samples are taken to check for the presence of syphilis antibodies in the bloodstream. Antibodies are proteins produced by one’s immune system when it detects harmful substances in the body.
  • Fluid or Tissue Sample Analysis: During this test, a doctor will collect fluid or a portion of skin from a syphilis sore and examine it under a microscope to detect the presence of the bacterium.

If you suspect you have syphilis or are experiencing symptoms, take proactive steps by seeking medical attention and undergoing testing promptly.

What are the Treatment Options for Syphilis?

Syphilis is treatable and curable with antibiotics, particularly in the earlier stages of infection. The type, dosage and frequency will vary depending on the stage of syphilis, the presenting symptoms, and the patient’s overall health. Treatment will kill the bacteria and prevent further damage, but will not repair damage that has already been done. Your doctor will advise you on the full treatment plan applicable to you.

How to Prevent Syphilis

  • Practise Safe Sex: Using barrier contraception, such as condoms, consistently and correctly during sexual activity helps lower the risk of contracting syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Regular Testing: Regular testing is crucial for early detection and prompt treatment, especially if an individual is sexually active, has multiple partners, or has had potential exposure to syphilis.
  • Limit Sexual Partners: Reduce the number of sexual partners to decrease the risk of exposure to syphilis. Engaging in monogamous relationships with partners who have been tested and are free from syphilis and other infections can further reduce the risk.

Dr Tan Medical Center is a men’s health and sexual health clinic in Singapore committed to providing comprehensive screenings and treatments for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Patient safety and welfare is extremely important to us, so you can be assured of a confidential and supportive treatment journey.

“Every patient deserves our fullest attention.”

Dr Tan Medical Centre

10 Sinaran Drive #09-30, Novena Medical Centre, Singapore 307506

Tel: (+65) 6513 0359 WhatsApp: (+65) 9750 5037

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