Type of Infection: Bacterial Treponema pallidum
Transmission: The most common way of contracting the disease is through vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, it can be spread by non-sexual contact if the sores (chancres) rashes or mucous patches caused by syphilis come in contact with the broken skin of a non-infected individual. This disease can be contracted through physical contact such as kissing, as well as through sexual intercourse. If left untreated, it will progress for years in three stages. In the first stage a sore (chancre) appears, and in the second stage a rash and patches of flaking tissue appear in the mouth or genital area. If the disease progresses to its third stage, which is rare today, brain damage, hearing loss, heart disease, and/or blindness can occur.
Symptoms: In the initial phase, the disease produces painless sores or "chancres" that usually appear on the genitals but can appear anywhere on the body, If untreated, the disease progresses to other stages of infection which include a rash, fever sore throat, hair loss and swollen glands throughout the body.
Treatment: The disease can be cured with penicillin; however, damage done to body organs cannot be reversed.
Impact on Infected Person: If untreated, syphilis may cause serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes, nervous system, bones and joints and can lead to death. A person with active syphilis has an increased risk that exposure to HIV will lead to infection because the sores (chancres) provide an entry point for the AIDS virus.
Impact on Fetus or Newborn: If untreated, a pregnant woman will usually transmit the disease to the fetus. Stillbirth and death within the neonatal period occur in 25% of these cases. 40 - 70% deliver an infant with active syphilis. If undetected, damage may occur to the infant's heart, brain and eyes.
Preventive Measures: Abstaining from vaginal, anal and oral sex with an infected person is the only 100% effective means of preventing the sexual transmission of syphilis. Latex condoms can reduce but not eliminate the risk of contracting the disease during sex. However, it is still possible to contract syphilis, even though using a condom, via sores in the genital area. It is also important to avoid non-sexual physical contact with the infectious sores (chancres), rashes or mucous patches caused by syphilis.
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