So, It’s 2024 and it seems that Syphilis is in on the rise in Canada. HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING PEOPLE? In the last four years, cases rose 100% and cases of syphilis being passed on to a fetus during pregnancy are up just under SIX HUNDRED PERCENT! Excuse me for screaming at you, but, come on. In fact, a decade ago, we had nearly eradicated fetal syphilis, yet, here we are. They said Gen Z was having less sex? We all know that condom use prevents not only pregnancy but also STDs. Have I lost my mind because I assumed this is just a thing by now. I guess not, so here is a quick primer.

I guess we are making syphilis great again? Do we all get red ball caps? MSGA?

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It manifests in various stages, and the symptoms may differ depending on the stage of the infection. Transmission occurs through direct contact with syphilis sores, typically during sexual activity. These sores appear on the genitals, anus or mouth.

The primary stage is characterized by the appearance of painless sores or ulcers. Typically found on the genitals, anus, or even the mouth. If left untreated, the infection progresses to the secondary stage, marked by skin rashes and, unsurprisingly, mucous membrane lesions.

How is it treated?

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics but the specific antibiotic prescribed depends on the stage of the infection. Penicillin is the most common and effective antibiotic used for treating syphilis, although many people are allergic to that. The type and duration of treatment vary based on the stage of the disease:

  1. Primary and Secondary Syphilis:
    • Intramuscular injection of benzathine penicillin G is the preferred treatment. A single dose is usually sufficient.
  2. Latent Syphilis:
    • Depending on how long the infection has been latent, multiple doses of benzathine penicillin G may be required. The treatment regimen is determined by the healthcare provider.
  3. Tertiary Syphilis or Neurosyphilis:
    • Intravenous penicillin is typically administered for cases involving the central nervous system or late-stage syphilis.

It’s crucial to note that individuals who are allergic to penicillin require alternative antibiotics, such as doxycycline or tetracycline, although these are less commonly used.

After you complete the prescribed antibiotic treatment, you must follow up with healthcare providers for additional testing to ensure the infection has been successfully treated. It’s recommended to abstain from sexual activity during the treatment period to avoid transmitting the infection. I can’t believe we need a reminder about this one, alas, it seems we do.

Prompt and appropriate treatment is essential to prevent the progression of syphilis and reduce the risk of complications. If you suspect you have syphilis or have been exposed to it, it’s important to seek medical advice and get tested.

What happens with untreated syphilis?

syphilis toulouse-lautrec
This. This is what happens. This is Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec. You go mad and die. Don’t be Henri

Left untreated, it progresses through several stages, each characterized by different symptoms and potential complications. The super sexy stages of syphilis are:

  1. Primary Syphilis:
    • Painless sores or ulcers, known as chancres, appear at the site of infection (genitals, anus, or mouth). These sores might heal on their own, but the infection persists if not treated.
  2. Secondary Syphilis:
    • Skin rashes, mucous membrane lesions, and flu-like symptoms can occur. These symptoms may also resolve on their own, leading to a latent stage if left untreated.
  3. Latent Syphilis:
    • During the latent stage, there are no visible symptoms, but the bacteria remain in the body. Latent syphilis is divided into early latent (within the first year of infection) and late latent (after one year). This stage can last for years.
  4. Tertiary Syphilis:
    • This is the most severe stage and might occur years after the initial infection. Tertiary syphilis can lead to severe damage to organs such as the heart, brain, nerves, and other tissues. Possible complications include cardiovascular syphilis, neurosyphilis, and gummatous syphilis.
  5. Neurosyphilis:
    • In some cases, syphilis can affect the nervous system, leading to symptoms such as headaches, difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, and sensory deficits.

Untreated syphilis can have serious health consequences and may result in organ damage, neurological complications, and even death in severe cases. Additionally, syphilis infection in pregnant women can lead to congenital syphilis, affecting the unborn child and causing serious health problems or death. Sounds great, right?

Fun Facts about Syphilis

Syphilis was given many nicknames that reflected the stigma around the disease People took to naming it after individuals they were not particularly fond of as an insult. So to the French, for example,  it was the “Neapolitan disease,” to the Polish, the “German disease,” and to the English, the Germans, and the Italians, it was referred to as the “French disease.”

In 1906, the development of the Wasserman blood test saw the first effective treatment of syphilis. Before this, however, the disease would be diagnosed based purely on the visible symptoms it caused, like rashes and sores. That’s why so many people eventually died of it.

Many diseases in the early modern period were believed to be a punishment from God. However, this was particularly the case with syphilis because it was already heavily linked to moral issues.

Since syphilis was heavily stigmatized, of course, men blamed sex workers. This led to Drs performing experiments on them. Physicians, therefore, attempted to infect sex workers with the disease in the hopes that having the disease once would encourage natural immunity. Unfortunately, for many sex workers, this was not the case. Many were given the disease for the first time through these experiments and then died or were permanently disfigured when they were unable to recover from it. Because, of course they did.

One of the most unbelievable facts about syphilis is that it was often treated using mercury. This incredibly harmful substance was most commonly applied directly to the affected areas via ointment) but could also be administered via pills or steam baths. Mercury often killed patients before the syphilis could.

Use Condoms and test regularly if you are sexually active

Fortunately, syphilis is curable with appropriate antibiotic treatment, especially in the early stages. Regular testing, early detection, and timely treatment are crucial in preventing the progression of syphilis and reducing the risk of complications. If you suspect you have syphilis or have been exposed to it, it’s important to seek medical advice and get tested promptly. On the other hand, you could just use condoms.