Syphilis is caused by Treponema pallidum, a type of bacteria. Transmission is most commonly by contact with a syphilitic sore during sexual activity, though an infected mother may also transmit it to a fetus. The incidence of a rash indicates that the disease has bypassed the first or primary stage and progressed to the secondary stage. It is vital to arrest the development of syphilis as soon as possible, since it can give rise to serious consequences in the later stages, and can even be fatal.
There are four stages of syphilis and the symptoms of each stage vary. The occurrence of a rash corresponds with the secondary stage of progression. The following are the four stages of syphilis, and characteristic symptoms of each stage.
This is the first stage of syphilis. The incidence of syphilis is characterized by a single sore, called a chancre (however, in many cases there may be multiple sores). The sore appears as a small round reddish bump, which is painless, and occurs at the point where the infection entered the body. The chancre generally appears on the genital, anal, or rectal parts of the body, though sores can also show up as a mouth sore or on the lips. There is a time lag between the infection entering the body and its manifestation as a symptom, which averages at around 21 days, though it may take anything between 10 and 90 days for the first sores to show up.
If syphilis is not treated in the primary stage, it progresses to the next stage, which is characterized by the appearance of rash. This manifests in the form of skin rashes or lesions that appear on the skin―typically they show up as rashes on palms or on feet but do not cause any discomfort since they are neither painful, nor itchy. As the condition progresses these lesions may also begin appearing on the chest, though susceptible areas are the folds of the skin in the groin, in the armpits, or in women, under the breasts. A rash on the face can also appear; these rashes are sometimes so faint, that diagnosing syphilis on the basis of these rashes alone, is difficult; however, secondary syphilis is accompanied by some additional symptoms, which help in the identification of the condition. These are as follows:
- General fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Painful swollen lymph glands
The third stage of syphilis may last for several years and the carrier may be asymptomatic. The condition is described as latent or dormant because of the hidden nature of the disease, as it may stay undetected while continuing to proliferate within the body. As a result of the dormancy and lack of symptoms, syphilis may still remain untreated and proceed to the final stage of tertiary syphilis.
When the disease has progressed to this stage, it will begin to damage various parts of the body. In time, the bacteria will damage internal organs, and impair the functioning of the brain, nerves, heart, liver and eyes, sometimes causing blindness. Eventually paralysis will develop, and may even be followed by death.
Treatment and Prevention
If detected in the early stages, syphilis can be successfully treated by administration of penicillin. A single intramuscular injection can successfully cure a syphilis patient who has had the condition for less than a year. Treatment becomes proportionately difficult as the condition advances. Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment is essential for the cure of this disease. As with any other condition, prevention is better than cure. In the case of sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence, or a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is the best way to avoid contraction. Although protection, in the form of the use of condoms, is not a measure that can prevent the occurrence of a syphilis rash, using protection as a habit, may reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, and provide some measure of defense against contact with a rash or sore.
Syphilis and its treatment can be a simple procedure if correctly identified in the early stages. It's imperative to educate yourself and your partner regarding the dangers of this disease and to keep a lookout for symptoms like rashes. Most importantly, seek medical treatment immediately if at all in doubt.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.