Syphilis is an easily transmitted illness caused by bacteria. Today, if it is diagnosed early, syphilis can be effectively cured with antibiotics. If it is not promptly treated, however, it can have serious consequences for your health. Syphilis is also sometimes called "lues" or "hard chancre".
For people with HIV, the illness often progresses more rapidly. It is also more common for the illness to reappear, despite medication, in HIV-positive people. In addition, the blood test for syphilis can sometimes return a negative result in HIV-positive people, although the person is actually infected with syphilis.
After undergoing syphilis therapy, HIV-positive people should have a regular blood test to ensure that the syphilis has been effectively cured and does not flare up again.
Syphilis infections are registered with the Robert Koch Institute, which monitors the spread of infectious diseases in Germany, by the practice or laboratory which identifies the illness. The name of the patient, however, is not passed on.
Syphilis can cause varied symptoms and the progression of the illness can vary widely. It is therefore often overlooked or mistaken for a different illness.
Initially, a small ulcer often develops at the site where the pathogen entered the body, for example on the penis, in the vagina, in the anal area or in the mouth. There may also be swelling of the lymph nodes. These symptoms usually go away of their own accord.
After around two to three months, symptoms such as fever, headache and joint pain may appear. Skin rashes and a coating on the tongue are also common. These signs of illness also subside on their own. After that, there are usually no more signs of syphilis.
If, however, years later, it progresses to a third phase of illness (tertiary syphilis), ulcers appear all over the body. The organs and the nervous system may be damaged - possibly leading to deafness, blindness and psychiatric problems. Today, however, thanks to effective treatment options, it rarely reaches this stage.
Syphilis is easily transmitted. The pathogens are present wherever the effected skin or mucous membranes secrete fluid, as well as in the blood.
The bacteria can then enter the body of another person via the tiniest cuts or injuries in the skin or mucous membranes (for example in the mouth, anal area, on the penis or in the vagina). This usually occurs during unprotected vaginal or anal sex. Syphilis can also be passed on during oral sex. It can also be very easily transmitted by sharing needles when using drugs. Pregnant women can pass the bacteria on to their unborn child.
People with no symptoms can still infect others.
The risk of a syphilis infection from sex cannot be ruled out, but it can be reduced by using condoms. You should avoid contact with any areas of your partner's skin that are weeping or oozing. If you use sex toys, you should wash the toy thoroughly after use and if you are having sex with multiple partners, you should put a new condom on the toy with every partner..
Especially important: people with frequently changing sexual partners should be tested for syphilis once a year, in order to treat the disease promptly if necessary and to avoid passing it on to others.
A blood test is carried out if syphilis is suspected.
Syphilis is treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin. The medicine is injected into a muscle or - in severe cases - via an infusion into an artery. If the illness is treated in the first two stages, the treatment lasts two to three weeks. Treatment is also possible at later stages of the illness, although the therapy usually lasts longer.
People with syphilis should not have sex until they have completed the treatment. If possible, you should inform all sexual partners that they may have been infected. Without fail, they should also be tested for syphilis.