Can you get rid of syphilis?
Table of Contents
- Written by Dr. Andrea Pinto - Written on November 13, 2021
Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause a variety of symptoms, and if left untreated, can significantly impact your quality of life and even put your life at risk. If you have symptoms of syphilis, it’s important to get treated as quickly as possible to prevent future health complications.
Read on to learn whether you can get rid of syphilis at STDWatch.com.
Syphilis treatment: Can you get rid of syphilis?
Syphilis is known as the “great imitator” due to its ability to affect many different parts of the body and cause a wide range of symptoms. This STD is caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. According to the organization Avert, syphilis can be transmitted through different activities, including:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex
- Sharing sex toys
- From mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth
Syphilis is still one of the most common STIs in the world, and the CDC reported nearly 130,000 new cases of syphilis in the United States in 2019 alone. The rates of syphilis reached historically low values in the early 2000s, but they have started to rise again in recent years. This increase has been observed in both men and women of different ethnic groups.
Rising numbers of syphilis mean that it’s more important than ever to get tested for STDs regularly. According to The Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand (bpacnz), approximately 50 percent of all people who have syphilis can be completely asymptomatic, which means that it’s even easier for them to spread the STD to new partners without realizing it. Additionally, you can still transmit the disease during its latent stage, even without symptoms.
This substantial increase in syphilis prevalence also means that there is a higher risk of new and resistant strains spreading among more people. A study conducted by the University of Washington School of Medicine found that some strains of Treponema pallidum have mutated to become resistant to azithromycin. This is yet another reason why it’s so important to treat syphilis as early and effectively as possible.
Syphilis treatment by stages
Syphilis is a very old disease, and there are records of patients with syphilis that date back hundreds of years. However, it wasn’t until the invention of the first modern antibiotic — penicillin — that doctors were able to successfully treat this disease. The progression of syphilis can be subdivided into four distinct stages, which are as follows:
- Primary syphilis
- Secondary syphilis
- Latent syphilis
- Tertiary syphilis
Let’s talk about how syphilis can be treated in each of its stages.
Primary syphilis treatment
Primary syphilis, as its name suggests, is the first stage of the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, the first symptom of syphilis is typically a small, painless sore or chancre that will appear where the bacteria entered your body — usually on the genitals. This chancre will heal on its own after three to six weeks.
During this stage, syphilis can be treated with an injection of benzathine penicillin G, 2.4 million units IM in a single dose.
Secondary syphilis treatment
According to the University of Michigan Health, secondary syphilis starts two to eight weeks after the chancre first appears, and it can even happen before the chancre heals. Symptoms during this stage can include:
- A reddish brown rash that consists of small sores that can be flat or raised. This rash can affect the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
- Small, open sores may appear on mucous membranes.
- The rash will heal on its own within two months without scarring, but it can leave some skin discoloration behind.
The treatment of choice for secondary syphilis is still a single intramuscular dose of benzathine penicillin G, 2.4 million units.
Latent syphilis treatment
Latent syphilis is completely asymptomatic, and it can last anywhere from a few months to many years. If syphilis is detected during this stage, it can still be treated with a single dose of intramuscular penicillin. But if you’ve had latent syphilis for a long time, it could require 3 intramuscular doses of 2.4 million units each at weekly intervals.
Tertiary syphilis treatment
This is the last and most severe stage of syphilis. When syphilis progresses to this stage, it can affect many different organs in your body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, its symptoms can include:
- Brain damage
- Heart disease
- Joint problems
- Nerve damage
- Movement problems
- Vision difficulties
Treatment for tertiary syphilis requires 3 intramuscular doses of 2.4 million units each at weekly intervals. However, penicillin can’t reverse the damage that syphilis can cause to other organs.
Can I receive treatment for syphilis during pregnancy?
Yes! It’s actually incredibly important to get treated for syphilis if you’re pregnant, since the disease can be passed on to your baby and cause a condition called congenital syphilis.
Penicillin is the only treatment that is currently recommended for pregnant women with syphilis. If you’re allergic to penicillin, your healthcare provider could recommend a procedure called penicillin desensitization so you can get treated.
Patients who aren’t pregnant and are allergic to penicillin could receive other treatments, such as doxycycline, azithromycin, and tetracycline.
Fortunately, most cases of early-stage syphilis respond very well to antibiotic treatment. It’s important to get tested regularly so you can get treated even if you’re asymptomatic. Learn more about easy and affordable at-home STD testing at STDWatch.com.
- SYPHILIS SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENT - avert.org
- National Overview - Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2019 - cdc.gov
- Syphilis: testing for “the great imitator” - bpac.org.nz
- Antibiotic-resistant strain of syphilis is spreading, UW study finds - depts.washington.edu
- Syphilis - mayoclinic.org
- Stages of Syphilis - uofmhealth.org
- Syphilis - my.clevelandclinic.org
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