Syphilis, which may have many severe symptoms, is caused by bacteria. Nowadays the disease is very uncommon in Sweden. Syphilis occurs most in people who have had sexual contacts in South East Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa or in US and European cities. If you have reason to believe that you have syphilis, you must seek examination by a doctor.
How is syphilis transmitted?
Syphilis is mainly transmitted through intercourse, but other very intimate contact may transmit the bacteria, e.g. kissing with a syphilis sore around the mouth. Blood may also transmit the infection.
What are the symptoms of syphilis?
Syphilis starts with one or more hard, painless, fluid-filled sores 1-4 weeks after infection in the place where the bacteria entered the body. If the sore is located in the vagina or rectum, it can sometimes be difficult to discover. Without treatment, the sore disappears after 3-6 weeks, but the bacteria remain in the body. 1-3 months after infection, the disease will reappear as a rash on the skin. Other symptoms include fever, nausea, tiredness, joint pain and hair loss. The disease may then cease to show symptoms, only showing up again after several years.
What is the testing procedure?
If fluid is running from the sore, a sample can be examined under a microscope. Syphilis may also show up in a blood test but only a few weeks after infection.
How is syphilis treated?
Syphilis can be cured with penicillin injections over 10-20 days. After the treatment, check-ups are repeated for at least a further year. Testing and treatment are free of charge.
What about my partner?
Your current and any previous partners who may be carrying the infection must be examined and treated if necessary. There must be no intercourse during the period of the treatment or before your partner has been examined and treated. An infected person must follow the doctor's instructions in order to prevent other people from being infected.
What secondary diseases can syphilis cause?
The disease is extremely serious. If syphilis remains untreated, it may cause damage to the brain and the heart, for example. A woman with syphilis who becomes pregnant may transfer the bacteria to the foetus via the placenta. The foetus may then suffer serious damage. One of the problems with syphilis is that the infection may go undiscovered in its initial stages.
If you find sores in the genital area, do not try to treat them yourself, but immediately seek the advice of a doctor. Remember also that a condom always provides good protection against syphilis.