Syphilis is a serious venereal disease but is curable. If it is left untreated, it can affect the heart, brain, and may even be fatal.
The disease is caused by a type of spirochaete bacteria. It is transmitted by sexual contact. The incubation period varies from 9-90 days, but most cases present 2-4 weeks after exposure.
Primary Syphilis: This presents initially as a painless sore on the genital area. The sore may be obvious in men, but remain inconspicuous in women if it is situated deep inside the vagina. Even if it is left untreated, the painless sore will heal by itself; however the spirochaete will spread throughout the body.
Secondary Syphilis: Within a few weeks symptoms of secondary syphilis develops, such as fever, malaise, non-itchy rash and enlarged lymph glands. These symptoms eventually subside but the infection will go on to a latent stage.
Latent Stage: Patients are asymptomatic in latent stage syphilis. The disease can only be diagnosed by blood test.
Late Syphilis: If untreated, late syphilis may occur a few years to decades after the initial infection. The heart, aorta and brain may be damaged, leading to blindness, physical disability, mental illness, and even death.
Congenital Syphilis: Syphilis may also be transmitted from pregnant mother to her fetus causing congenital syphilis. This leads to intrauterine death or other disabilities, such as blindness and deafness, etc.
It is important to seek medical advice early if you suspect you have syphilis. The Social Hygiene Clinic of Department of Health offers check up, treatment and counseling. A referral is not required, and all information are kept confidential.
Patients should follow medical advice on treatment. Their sexual partners should also receive check up and treatment at the same time, so as to avoid repeated cross transmission.
Normal sexual activity may be resumed after treatment has been completed, but it is important to attend follow up appointment as advised by the doctor. Pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis need not be frightened, as early treatment may reduce the risk to both mother and child.
The most effective way of preventing sexually transmitted infections is to have safer sex and maintain a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner and avoid casual sex. If this is impossible, condom should be properly used during each sexual contact to reduce the chance of infection.
For more health information, please call:
AIDS HOTLINE : 2780 2211
DR. SEX HOTLINE : 2337 2121
DH 24-hour Health Education Hotline : 2833 0111
Centre for Health Protection web site