Syphilis

Syphilis, which is caused by bacteria called spirochetes, causes sores (chancres) to appear mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. They can also appear on the lips and in the mouth.

There are three stages of syphilis. During the primary stage, which usually occurs within 10 to 90 days after exposure, a sore may appear. During the secondary phase, which usually occurs within 17 days to six-and-a-half months after exposure, a rash may appear on various parts of the body. If left untreated, Syphilis can proceed to the latent stage during which it may have no visible symptoms but can cause irreversible damage to internal organs.

Syphilis is transmitted through direct contact with sores during unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex with an infected person. Syphilis can also be transmitted from mother to newborn during childbirth.

Syphilis is not transmitted through such casual contact as hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, using the same eating utensils, drinking from the same glass, sitting on public toilets, or touching door knobs.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Women and men may experience the same signs of Syphilis.
  • During the primary stage, a sore may appear on the genitals at or near the place where the bacteria entered the body. Usually firm, round, small, and painless, the sore will develop within 10 to 90 days after contact with the bacteria and will usually last from one to five weeks. A person can easily spread the disease during this stage. If adequate treatment is not received, the infection will progress to the secondary stage.
  • During the secondary stage, a rash may appear over the entire body or on the hands and soles of the feet. Other symptoms may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and tiredness. Symptoms may appear from 17 days to six-and-a-half months after infection has occurred. They can last up to six months. A person can easily spread the disease during this stage. If adequate treatment is not received, the infection will progress to the latent stage.
  • During the latent stage, the untreated bacteria will begin to damage internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints. Latent signs may include uncoordinated muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. A person is not usually contagious during this stage.

 

Testing:

  • Syphilis is diagnosed through cultures of secretions from the sore or through blood tests.

 

Treatment:

  • Syphilis is curable with antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider. Damage to internal organs during the latent stage is irreversible. All partners should undergo treatment at the same time to prevent passing the infection back and forth. They should also be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms subside.

 

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Prevalence:

  • National Data - CDC's STD Surveillance 2005 Report: www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/default.htm
  • In 2005, the reported cases of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis increased 9.3% to 8,724 from 7,980 in 2004.
  • The rate of P&S syphilis in the United States in 2005 (3.0 cases per 100,000) was 11.1% higher than the rate in 2004 (2.7 cases per 100,000).

 

Data by Sex:

  • The rate of P&S syphilis increased 8.5% among men (from 4.7 to 5.1 cases per 100,000 men) between 2004 and 2005. During this time, the rate increased among women from 0.8 to 0.9 cases per 100,000 women.
  • The male-to-female rate ratio for P&S syphilis has risen steadily since 1996 when it was 1.2, suggesting an increase in syphilis among men who have sex with men during this time. The male-to-female rate ratio in 2005 was 5.7.

 

Data by Race/Ethnicity:

  • From 2004 to 2005, the rate among whites increased 12.5% (from 1.6 to 1.8 per 100,000); rates among white men increased 10% (from 3.0 to 3.3 per 100,000) but stayed the same among white women (0.3).
  • The rate among African Americans increased 11.4% (from 8.8 to 9.8); rates among African-American men increased 12.9% (from 13.9 to 15.7 cases per 100,000) and rates among African-American women increased 4.8% (from 4.2 to 4.4 cases per 100,000).
  • The rate among Hispanics increased 6.5% (from 3.1 to 3.3 case per 100,000); rates among Hispanic men increased 1.9% (from 5.4 to 5.5 cases per 100,000 men) and rates among Hispanic women increased 28.6% (from 0.7 to 0.9 cases per 100,000 women).
  • The rate among Asian/Pacific Islanders stayed the same (1.2 cases per 100,000); rates among Asian/Pacific Islanders men increased 4.5% (from 2.2 to 2.3 cases per 100,000 men) but stayed the same among women (0.2 cases per 100,000 women).
  • The rate among American Indian/Alaska Natives decreased 22.6% (from 3.1 to 2.4 cases per 100,000); rates among American Indian/Alaska Native men decreased 5.7% (from 3.5 to 3.3 cases per 100,000 men) and rates among American Indian/Alaska Natives women decreased 42.9% (from 2.8 to 1.6 cases per 100,000 women).

 

Data by Age:

  • In 2005, the rate of P&S syphilis among African Americans was highest among women ages 20-24 (13.5 cases per 100,000) and among men ages 25-29 (38.2 cases per 100,000).
  • For whites, the rate was highest among women ages 20-24 years (0.8 cases per 100,000) and among men ages 35-39 years (10.3 cases per 100,000).
  • For Hispanics, the rate was highest among women ages 20-24 (2.9 cases per 100,000) and among men ages 35-39 (14.0 cases per 100,000)
  • For Asian/Pacific Islanders, the rate was highest among women ages 20-24 (0.8 per 100,000) and among men ages 30-34 years (6.6 cases per 100,000).
  • For American Indian/Alaska Natives, the rate was highest among women ages 35-39 years (4.7 cases per 100,000) and among men ages 30-34 years (11.4).

 

Regional, State, County, and City Data:

 


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