Transmission “is thought to be by entry in the subcutaneous tissue through microscopic abrasions that can occur during sexual intercourse (Lowdermilk & Perry, 182)”. It also can be transmitted through kissing, biting, and oral-genital sex.
The rate of transmission declined from 1995-2004. Syphilis continues to be at a high rate in the southern states.
Primary syphilis appears 5-90 days after as a lesion or chancre, usually painless. Then it erodes into an ulcer appearing sore.
Secondary syphilis occurs 6 weeks to 6 months after transmission. Its appearance is a widespread, symmetric rash on the palms and soles of the feet; with affected lymph nodes. Some individuals also have a fever, headache, and generalized malaise (under-the-weather sensation).
In the vulva, perineum, or anal area Condylomata lata may develop. If left untreated the female may enter a latent phase. If still left untreated, tertiary syphilis will develop, in approximently 1/3 of these women. In this third stage, neurologic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, or multi-organ system complications can develop.
Screening and Diagnosis
All women who are diagnosed with another STI or with HIV should have a screen form syphilis. All pregnant women should be screened at the first prenatal visit.
Diagnosis is dependent upon the microscopic exam of primary and/or secondary lesion tissues during the latent or late infection. Serologic tests of antibodies may not be reactive, in early tests.
There may be false-positives with VDRL or RPR screenings. This is not unusual for several reasons, such as: drug addiction or acute infection. To confirm the positive results the use of treponemal tests, fluorescent treponemal antibody absorbed (FTA-ABS) and microheagglutination assays of antibody to T. palidum (MHA-TP) are used to confirm positive results.
Testing should be repeated at 1 to 2 months when genital lesions exist. This is due to early exposure not showing results until 6 to 8 weeks after exposure.
Other STI tests should be done at this juncture, for chlamydia, gonorrhea, et al. HIV should be also offered as a test if indicated.
Penicillin is the preferred drug for treatment. Doxycycline, tetracycline, and erythromycin are alternative treatments. Tetracycline and Doxycycline are contraindicated in pregnancy.
Some pregnant women may get what is known as “Jarisch Herxheimer ” reaction, that may be accompanied with headaches, myalgias, and arthalgias . If the treatment occurs at the second half of pregnancy, it may cause early labor and birth. Their doctor should be contacted if fetal movement stops or if contractions occur.
Women should abstain from sexual activity during treatment and all evidence of primary or secondary syphilis is gone. She should also tell all partners that have been exposed, and that this disease is to be reported.