Syphilis is a contagious disease that is transmitted mostly through a sexual contact, including oral and anal sex, and also through infected needles. Syphilis is rated as one of the most widespread venereal infections. Approximately 12 million of syphilis’ cases are registered every year. Patients are more often diagnosed with syphilis in developing countries where the overall rate of health quality is not high enough. Risk groups for syphilis in Europe and the USA include people with other venereal diseases and AIDS, women of the childbearing age, prisoners, prostitutes, and people who abuse drugs and alcohol. Thus, syphilis can be called one of the most widespread and at the same time severe venereal conditions.
The symptoms of syphilis were noticed even in ancient times, though the bacterial cause of it was unknown. The term syphilis was created in the Renaissance epoch by Girolamo Fracastoro, an Italian physician. The disease was first described by Fracastoro in his treatise On Contagion that was published in 1546 (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014). However, this work was rather a generalization of available knowledge about diseases. It did not provide a scientific overview of syphilis. During the years, various causes of the disease were suggested. In ancient times, mystic explanations of syphilis were popular. The disease was ascribed to God’s wrath, unlucky arrangement of planets, and so on. In XV-XVI centuries, syphilis was believed to be a result of poisoning (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). Later, in XIX century the idea about inherent nature of syphilis appeared. This idea has implied that some people are born with an inclination to syphilis; and the disease inevitably develops sooner or later. The infectious nature of syphilis was discovered only as late as 1907 by Erich Hoffmann and Fritz Schaudinn (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014). In 1908, the first syphilis test was developed (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). It significantly facilitated diagnosing of the disease. However, the treatment of syphilis had not been found until 1910 (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014). The solution was Salvarsan; it was suggested by Ehrlich. It was the first experimental chemical treatment for a bacterial disease of this type.
Since the discovery of the disease, many attempts of its experimental studies have been made. One of such experiments had been conducted between 1932 and 1972. It has received the name of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. It was conducted in Alabama. The primary purpose of the experiment was to observe the natural development of untreated syphilis in African-American people. The participants of the study were 600 volunteers whose progress of syphilis was regularly reviewed (Jones, 2007). They received free medical examinations as well as free food and insurance. However, a proper treatment was not included in the experiment. It the initial stage of the study, the subjects received also some medications, such as mercury, bismuth, and neoarsphenamine (Jones, 2007). Nevertheless, the remedies were applied in insignificant quantities and could not considerably influence the progress of the disease. The Tuskegee study is considered to be ethically inappropriate since the subjects were not informed about the purpose of the research and served as laboratory animals. On the contrary, they were told that they had been receiving treatment for bad blood that implied being treated from anemia, fatigue, and syphilis at the same time. At the end of the study, 28 participants died of syphilis; and 100 - of its complications (Jones, 2007). Only 3% of the subjects improved their state (Jones, 2007). The Tuskegee research did not bring many positive results, though it helped to increase the awareness about transmission of syphilis and the peculiarities of its development in various stages.
Currently, syphilis is defined as a systematic infectious disease that can be either congenital or transmittable (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). Though a sexual activity is considered to be a primary way of syphilis transmission, it can be passed also by blood transfusion, a close bodily contact, prolonged kisses. It occurs since the bacteria can penetrate into an organism through minor cuts on skin or defects of mucous membranes. However, syphilis cannot be transmitted through sharing objects of domestic usage, such as cooking utensils or towels. Congenital syphilis is syphilis transmitted from a mother to a baby. The bacteria are usually present in the uterus and infect a fetus during pregnancy.
The disease has both acute and chronic forms, each of which is characterized by a variety of symptoms. Without a sufficient treatment, syphilis usually affects most systems of the human organism. It has especially harmful effects on heart and brain. However, in early stages, the disease does not have noticeable symptoms and can be easily mistaken for other conditions.
Syphilis is caused by Treponema pallidum, one of the subspecies of spirochaete bacteria. Treponema can stay dormant for years. No symptoms of the disease will be displayed in this case. The incubation period of syphilis ranges from 10 to 90 days (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010).
The disease has four stages. The first one, primary syphilis, includes activating of the bacterium. The main symptom of the disease in this stage is a painless chancre that develops on genitals or mucous membrane of a mouth. The chancres normally look like small blisters and can disappear after 3-6 weeks without a treatment (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014). Other symptoms include swelling of lymph nodes near the chancre. Secondary syphilis is characterized by the appearance of ulcers on mucous membranes and skin rash developing on palms and feet. The ulcers usually are painless and have a coppery color. Rash is itch but does not cause a considerable discomfort. Sometimes rash and ulcers are accompanied by swollen lymph nodes and condylomata lata; flattened areas of skin have light pink or grayish color (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014). These symptoms can last from several months to a year. The disease in this period is extremely infectious. The bacteria are easily transmitted through rash and ulcers. The next stage is called latent syphilis. Despite the progress of the disease, the visible symptoms are absent. Tertiary syphilis implies complications that develop in patients who did not receive a timely treatment soon after infection. They can occur several years after the initial infection. In this stage, the disease can affect many organs, including eyes, heart, and brain, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. In some cases, syphilis can trigger mental disorders.
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Treatment of syphilis is relatively easy in its early stages. Penicillin injections are a main method of curing. Penicillin is considered to be the most effective antibiotic. For patients who have had syphilis for the period of no longer than a year, one penicillin injection is often enough. However, sometimes other antibiotics are used, such as tetracycline. They are usually employed if a patient is allergic to penicillin (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). During the treatment, the patient should refrain from a sexual activity. It may be resumed only after the chancres have been fully cured. Sometimes the successful treatment of syphilis requires a stay in hospital. However, in late stages of syphilis, even the most intensive treatment cannot repair all damage inflicted by the disease on the body. The treating process in this case is aimed at easing the pain and reducing discomfort rather than at complete healing. Though the bacteria can be killed, the complications affecting other systems of organs cannot be reversed (Jones, 2007).
Like any other serious disease, syphilis influences the lifestyle and nutritional habits. Certain food can help to control the symptoms and ease discomfort. People with syphilis are recommended to include in their diet barley, brown rice, honey, wheat, and bitter vegetables, such as radish, parsley, and turnip (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). The patients should avoid heavy and fatty food because its digestion takes rather long time and requires energy. The body should rather spend on fighting back the disease. Fast food, sauces, and sweets should be limited or excluded from the diet. Food should be cooked on sesame or olive oil rather than on sunflower oil (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014). However, dietary changes cannot treat the disease, though they can control some symptoms and increase body resistance to the infection. Any alcoholic drinks and food that contain many artificial additives should be excluded from the diet.
Some changes in a lifestyle can also be helpful for patients with syphilis. These shifts are usually aimed at the reduction of risk of disease transmission. First of all, they include intensification of personal hygiene. A sexual activity should be limited for the period of treatment. Later, condoms and other methods of protection should be used. The house where a person with syphilis lives does not require any special disinfection since Treponema Pallidum cannot live long outside the human body (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2010). However, a regular cleaning and control of humidity level are desirable since the bacteria can survive longer in a damp atmosphere. Though syphilis usually is not transmitted through domestic objects, sharing the same towels, razors, and cooking utensils with the patient should be avoided.
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Syphilis has a number of negative effects on the organism. Short-term results of the disease include, first of all, a sudden deterioration of immune system and a decline in overall body resistance. Even in early stages of syphilis, the organism becomes more susceptible to other infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). The correct and timely treatment significantly reduces a risk of negative consequences. However, damage of endocrine glands and disbolism are possible. Women may have problems with their pregnancy and a risk of miscarriage. However, in most cases, the correct planning of pregnancy can help to reduce the negative consequences of syphilis.
Long-term effects can become evident at any time. The earliest of them appears after one year after the initial infection. However, sometimes they occur after decades of a slowly progressing disease. These effects include a severe damage of the cardiovascular and nervous system, a gradual loss of eyesight, mental disorders accompanied by shooting pain, and so on. The most widespread complication of syphilis is its transition into cardiovascular or neurological stage (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2010). Other long-term effects of the disease concern cosmetic defects, such as skin and nail damage. One of the most common skin inflictions is gummata, sores on the skin or on mucous membranes. Alopecia or patchy hair loss is also possible, though it is considered to be a rare manifestation of syphilis and occurs only in 4-5% of patients (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014). Slow rotting of cartilage tissues that can lead to a saddle nose deformation is also one of the long-term effects of the disease. In some cases, chromosome mutations are registered. The long-term effects of transmittable syphilis are rather similar to those of the congenital one. A baby born to a mother with syphilis also risks having chromosome mutation and cartilage deformation, including the saddle nose and mutilation of lower limbs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010).
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As a conclusion, it is important to state that syphilis remains one of the most severe infectious diseases. It is continually growing. The prevention of its spread should be one of primary concerns of medical authorities. The consequences of this disease are severe and irreversible. That is why taking preventive measures is highly important. These actions include not only personal precautions, such as safe sex and personal hygiene. Governments should also take care of fighting the disease by increasing public awareness about it and providing an easy access to treatment.