Syphilis | BlackDoctor | Page 2


    Tertiary syphilis

    Approximately one-third of people who have had secondary syphilis go on to
    develop the complications of late, or tertiary, syphilis, in which the bacteria
    damage the heart, eyes, brain, nervous system, bones, joints, or almost any
    other part of the body. This stage can last for years, or even for decades. Late
    syphilis can result in mental illness, blindness, other neurologic problems,
    heart disease, and death.


    Syphilis is sometimes called “the great imitator” because its early symptoms
    are similar to those of many other diseases. Sexually active people should
    consult a doctor or other health care worker about any rash or sore in the
    genital area. Those who have been treated for another STI, such as gonorrhea,
    should be tested to be sure they do not also have syphilis.

    There are three ways to diagnose syphilis.

    • Recognizing the signs and symptoms
    • Examining blood samples
    • Identifying syphilis bacteria under a microscope

    The doctor usually uses all these approaches to diagnose syphilis and decide
    upon the stage of infection.

    Blood tests also provide evidence of infection, although they may give
    false-negative results (not show signs of an infection despite its presence) for
    up to 3 months after infection. False-positive tests (showing signs of an
    infection when it is not present) also can occur. Therefore, two blood tests are
    usually used. Interpretation of blood tests for syphilis can be difficult, and
    repeated tests are sometimes necessary to confirm the diagnosis.


    Unfortunately, the early symptoms of syphilis can be very mild, and many
    people do not seek treatment when they first become infected.

    Doctors usually treat patients with syphilis with penicillin, given by
    injection. They use other antibiotics for patients allergic to penicillin. A
    person usually can no longer transmit syphilis 24 hours after starting
    treatment. Some people, however, do not respond to the usual doses of
    penicillin. Therefore, it is important that people being treated for syphilis
    have periodic blood tests to check that the infectious agent has been completely

    People with neurosyphilis may need to be retested for up to 2 years after
    treatment. In all stages of syphilis, proper treatment will cure the disease.
    But in late syphilis, damage already done to body organs cannot be reversed.


    A pregnant woman with untreated, active syphilis is likely to pass the
    infection to her unborn child. In addition, miscarriage may occur in as many as
    25 to 50 percent of women acutely infected with syphilis during pregnancy.
    Between 40 to 70 percent of women with active syphilis will give birth to a
    syphilis-infected infant.

    Some infants with congenital syphilis may have symptoms at birth, but most
    develop symptoms between 2 weeks and 3 months later. These symptoms may include

    • Skin ulcers
    • Rashes
    • Fever
    • Weakened or hoarse crying sounds
    • Swollen liver and spleen
    • Yellowish skin (jaundice)
    • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
    • Various deformities

    People who care for infants with congenital syphilis must use special
    cautions because the moist sores are infectious.

    Rarely, the symptoms of syphilis go undetected in infants. As infected
    infants become older children and teenagers, they may develop the symptoms of
    late-stage syphilis, including damage to their bones, teeth, eyes, ears, and


    Syphilis bacteria frequently invade the nervous system during the early
    stages of infection. Approximately 3 to 7 percent of persons with untreated
    syphilis develop neurosyph

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