Infection with syphilis

An average of 750 people in the Netherlands are infected with syphilis every year. This is good for seventh place on the list of most common STDs. Syphilis is a serious sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria. Syphilis exists in different stages, which have their own symptoms. You can read more about this in this article. This article also provides information about the possible consequences of the infection and the treatment method.

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a serious STD, caused by a bacterium that initially settles in the vagina, penis, anus and sometimes the mouth. If you are treated in time, the disease can be cured. At first, the bacteria are only in the area where you were infected. Later, the bacteria can spread throughout your body through your blood.

How do you know if you are infected?

To detect syphilis it is necessary to undergo a blood test. A smear of fluid from the ulcer may also be taken during this examination. The doctor will probably also ask your permission to be tested for HIV. You usually have to wait about a week for the results. In some cases, for example when you are tested on multiple points, this will take a little longer. It is possible that the first blood test does not show any abnormalities, in which case a second blood test is necessary. No later than three months after a possible infection, it can be determined whether or not you have definitely been infected. The blood is also tested for syphilis during the first pregnancy check. Syphilis can infect the unborn child through the placenta. If the infection is treated, your baby will not be at unnecessary risk.


Stage 1 includes the following symptoms:

Two weeks to three months after infection, sores appear at the site where you were infected. This can be in or on the penis, in or on the vagina, in or on the anus or in the mouth. Because the sores can also be internal, they are not visible in all cases and you therefore do not always know in the initial phase that you have been infected. The lymph nodes around the ulcer become swollen. The ulcer can grow to a centimeter in diameter and may feel hard. In most cases the sores are not painful. The ulcer will disappear on its own after two to three weeks, even without treatment. However, this does not mean that the disease is gone!
A few weeks to months later, stage 2 of the disease occurs. The disease has now spread throughout your body via your bloodstream . So don’t think you are ‘safe’ when the sore disappears. See a doctor before you get to stage 2!

Stage 2 includes the following symptoms:

  • Eye complaints, eyeball inflammation and loss of vision.
  • Spots on the skin all over the body
  • Headache, sore throat, fever and fatigue
  • Hair loss, causing bald spots on the head.
  • Spots near the genitals or anus, similar to warts.


Possible consequences for men and women

If you have not had stages 1 and 2 treated, you enter the so-called dormant stage. The bacteria are still present in your body, but you don’t have to notice it. You can pass the disease on to others in the first year and possibly also in the second year. Only a blood test can show that you have the disease.
After years, the organs can become damaged. This includes the heart, aorta, brain, spinal cord and bones. This can cause inflammation, paralysis , mental deterioration and vascular changes. It is possible that a person may only discover at this stage that he/she has become infected with syphilis. In that case, no previous symptoms have ever occurred that indicated contamination. Fortunately, this rarely happens. Many people receive a course of antibiotics once in a while. It doesn’t matter what these antibiotics are for. The antibiotics may, by chance, kill the bacteria that cause syphilis.

Your environment

If it turns out that you have indeed become infected with syphilis, it is necessary to inform certain people. Find out who you have had sexual contact with after the moment of infection. If you have had unsafe sex with these people, it is strictly necessary to inform these people. This way they can also get tested and prevent further contamination.
If the syphilis has already reached the dormant stage before you find out that you have been infected, it is necessary to inform and have your permanent partner and children tested .

The treatment

There is a treatment to cure syphilis. The syphilis bacteria are killed by small penicillin injections. After the last injection, you will need to be examined regularly for 1 to 2 years. Blood is then taken and any (vague) complaints are investigated.
Once you have had all the injections, you can no longer infect someone else with the syphilis bacteria. Only then will it be possible to have sexual contact again without the risk of infecting the other person. You can still infect your partner during treatment. This means you run the risk of infecting each other and the disease never being brought under control. If you still want to have sex during the treatment, always use a condom.

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