Syphilis is a chronic venereal disease, which affects the skin, mucous membranes, internal organs, bones and nervous system. The disease is caused by a bacterium Treponema pallidum. Outside the human body treponema is highly unstable and quickly dies after a contact with soap or alcohol. Treponema dies at a temperature above 48 degrees during 30 minutes. Treponema pallidum may penetrate the human organism even through subtle skin injuries or mucous membranes, which leads to the disease called syphilis.
There are four stages of syphilis. Different symptoms correspond to different stages of syphilis. Let’s review them in turn.
Incubation period. This is the period from the very moment of infection and up to the emergence of chancre, a first sign of syphilis. The typical incubation period of syphilis is about 30 days. However, it may also vary from 10 days to 6 months. When antibiotics are taken to treat any disease, the incubation period of syphilis may increase. A patient with syphilis is non-contagious during its incubation period and the results of tests for syphilis will be negative.
Symptoms of primary syphilis. The first signs of syphilis appear on a stage of primary syphilis. A sore with a smooth and flat bottom or several closely located sores appear at the place where a syphilis bacterium penetrated the organism. This is a chancre, the first sign of syphilis. Usually, it appears on the genitals, namely genital lips in women or the head of the penis in men. Sore is practically painless, that’s why the patient often doesn’t notice it. At this stage, the patient becomes contagious, because the discharge from the sore contains plenty of bacteria.
Approximately in 5 weeks, the chancre disappears without treatment, but a scar remains on its place. Actually, the disease develops further. Bacteria from the chance move to the nearby lymph nodes making them enlarged but still painless. From the lymph nodes treponema spreads by the blood throughout the whole organism. A bright symptom of primary syphilis is unilateral or bilateral swelling of the lymph nodes, usually the groin ones. The nodes are mobile and painless.
Overall syphilis symptoms like weakness, headache, fever, muscle pain may be observed at the end of the primary stage. These symptoms precede the emergence of a generalized syphilitic rash, which is a beginning of the second period of syphilis disease.
Symptoms of secondary syphilis. Approximately 10 weeks after initial syphilis infection signs of a fresh secondary syphilis appear on the skin. This syphilitic rash has various forms, namely spots, nodules, abscesses that do not cause any discomfort.
Syphilitic rash passes without treatment within a few weeks. A secondary latent syphilis begins after the disappearance of syphilitic rash.
Secondary syphilis is characterized by a re-emergence of the visible signs of syphilis: rash, alopecia, small spots on the neck skin deprived of pigmentation. All these elements of syphilitic rash are very contagious, but painless. The appearance of flesh-colored growths on the genitals and around the anus are also possible. Secondary syphilis is particularly dangerous in respect of the high possibility of domestic infection. The symptoms of syphilis may disappear and then appear again for several years. Medical tests are positive. Duration of secondary syphilis in most cases is 2-4 years.
Symptoms of tertiary syphilis. Tertiary syphilis usually develops within 5 years after infection and even later. Tertiary syphilis is characterized by the development of syphilis or gummas inside the skin, bones, liver, brain, lungs, heart or eyes. Gummas are exposed to disintegration, which means the destruction of the organ in which they were formed. Ulcers on the mucosa of the nose or back wall of the throat are very symptomatic for tertiary syphilis. The nasal septum is often affected in the event of tertiary syphilis. Its destruction frequently occurs.
Symptoms of tertiary syphilis are associated with the death of brain and spinal cord nerve cells. These symptoms are dementia and paralysis. During this period visible plots of infection contain almost no bacteria, so they are usually not infectious.