Syphilis Symptoms in Singapore: Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can cure it if treated early, but if left until later it can cause permanent damage.
In the first stage of syphilis, known as the primary stage, a large sore appears on the genitals. This sore is called a chancre, and it usually appears a few weeks after the initial exposure to the bacteria. It is usually an ulceration of the skin with clean borders, up to 3cm in diameter. It can be painless or painful. It’s classically described as beginning as a small bump, evolving into a blister and then into the ulceration, although in reality it may take on any of these forms. Usually, it’s a single sore, but sometimes there can be more than one. Direct contact with this sore can transmit syphilis.
In women, the chancre most commonly appears on the cervix, while in men, the penis is most common. In those who have anal sex, the chancre may appear in the anal area. Without treatment, the chancre will last three to six weeks and then will heal without causing a scar, at which point the patient may believe they’re cured. Many patients who are diagnosed with later stages of syphilis state that they never had primary syphilis. It’s possible that they did have it and never noticed it, but it’s also possible for some people not to have any symptoms in the primary stage.
The next stage is called secondary syphilis. This stage of the illness usually appears one to three months after the primary stage has ended. Secondary syphilis was historically known among doctors as “the great imitator,” because it can appear in a wide variety of ways, which may sometimes be misdiagnosed as other diseases. Fever, weight loss, and swollen lymph nodes are common. Often, a rash appears all over the body, even on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. (It’s unusual for a rash to appear on the palms and soles, so if you notice this about a rash, you should definitely get it checked out.) This rash consists of many pink bumps. The rash itself is infectious; the bacteria can move through skin that’s compromised in any way, so kissing the skin where the rash is, or touching the rash with bare skin that’s slightly damaged, can transmit syphilis.
Sometimes, flat white patches appear inside of the mouth or on other moist linings; these are also infectious. Other parts of the body can also be affected by secondary syphilis, including the kidneys, liver, bones, nerves, and eyes. Secondary syphilis lasts approximately 3-6 weeks, and then goes away, although it may come back again in up to 25% of people.
Once the secondary stage has ended, syphilis enters a phase known as latent syphilis. In this stage, there are no symptoms, although the infection can be detected on blood tests. Earlier in this phase, the person may still be able to transmit the illness, but later in the latent phase, it becomes much less contagious.
The final stage of syphilis is known as tertiary syphilis. It may cause a number of severe symptoms. Sometimes, there are gummas, which are large areas of inflammation that are shaped like balls. They appear under the skin, in the bones, in the liver, or elsewhere, and can be very disfiguring. Another possible manifestation of tertiary syphilis is neurosyphilis, in which the bacteria attack the nervous system. This can lead to symptoms such as seizures, dementia, blindness, deafness, or paralysis. Aneurysms of the aorta, which is the large artery that carries blood from the heart toward the rest of the body, can also occur in tertiary syphilis, and can lead to death if they rupture.
If a pregnant woman has syphilis, the baby may be born with congenital syphilis, either acquired through the placenta or during birth. While the baby may not have symptoms right away, symptoms later develop, potentially affecting the nervous system, bones, joints, liver, spleen, and skin. Like with late-stage syphilis in adults, this damage is permanent even if the baby is treated with antibiotics to get rid of the bacteria. The baby could have serious disabilities or could die. Sometimes, babies with congenital syphilis are stillborn, meaning that the baby dies before birth, or are born prematurely, meaning that the baby comes too early (putting the baby’s life at risk).
To avoid congenital syphilis, it’s recommended that all pregnant women be screened for syphilis during pregnancy, so they can receive appropriate treatment that protects both mother and baby. Even a woman in what she believes is a mutually monogamous partnership may unwittingly get syphilis if her partner has cheated on her and had other sex partners, so it’s recommended that all women be screened, even if they don’t really think they need the screening. In Singapore, syphilis testing is a standard part of prenatal care, although it won’t be done if you prefer not to have it. However, for your health and your baby’s health, it’s better to be screened; there’s no reason not to.