What is Syphilis?

August 12, 2009

Syphilis (pronounced: siff-ill-iss) is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a type of bacteria known as a spirochete (through a microscope, it looks like a corkscrew or spiral). It is extremely small and can live almost anywhere in the body.

The spirochetes that cause syphilis can be passed from one person to another through direct contact with a syphilis sore during sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral sex). The infection can also be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy. You cannot catch syphilis from a towel, doorknob, or toilet seat.

In the 1990s there was a decrease in the number of people infected with syphilis. However, more recently there has been a steady increase in reported cases of syphilis, especially in young adults and in men who have male sexual partners.

In its early stages, syphilis is easily treatable. However, if left untreated, it can cause serious problems — even death. So it's important to understand as much as you can about this disease.

Symptoms of Syphilis

August 12, 2009

Syphilis occurs in several different stages:

Primary Syphilis

In the first stage of syphilis, red, firm, and sometimes wet sores that don't hurt appear on the vagina, rectum, penis, or mouth. There is often just one sore, but there may be several. This type of sore is called a chancre (pronounced: shang-ker). Chancres appear on the part of the body where the spirochetes moved from one person to another. Someone with syphilis may also have swollen glands during this first stage.

After a few weeks, the chancre will disappear, but that's not a sign that the disease has gone away. In fact, if the infection hasn't been treated, the disease will continue to get worse.

Syphilis is highly contagious during this first stage. Unfortunately, it can be easy to miss because the chancres are painless and can appear in areas that may not be easy to see, like in the mouth, under the foreskin, or on the anus. This means that people may not know that they are infected, and can pass the disease on to others without realizing it.

Secondary Syphilis

If syphilis hasn't been treated yet, the person will usually break out in a rash (especially on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands) and may also notice flu-like symptoms, such as fever and achiness. Sometimes the rashes associated with syphilis can be very faint or look like rashes from other infections and, therefore, may not be noticed. Sores sometimes appear on the lips, mouth, throat, vagina, and anus — but many people with secondary syphilis don't have sores at all.

This secondary stage usually lasts 1 to 2 weeks and will go away with or without treatment. But if the infection hasn't been treated, the disease will continue to progress. Syphilis is still contagious during the secondary stage.
Latent Syphilis

If syphilis still hasn't been treated yet, the person will have a period of the illness called latent (hidden) syphilis. This means that all the signs of the disease go away, but the disease is still very much there. Even though the disease is "hiding," the spirochetes are still in the body. Syphilis can remain latent for many years.

Tertiary Syphilis

If the disease still hasn't been treated at this point, it becomes known as tertiary (or late-stage) syphilis. This means the spirochetes have spread all over the body and can affect the brain, the heart, the spinal cord, and bones. Symptoms of late syphilis can include difficulty walking, numbness, gradual blindness, and possibly even death.

Can I get HIV from seeing the dentist or the doctor?

August 03, 2009

Although HIV transmission is possible in health care settings, it is extremely rare. Medical experts emphasize that the careful practice of infection control procedures, including universal precautions, protects patients as well as health care providers from possible HIV infection in medical and dental offices.

In 1990, the CDC reported on an HIV-infected dentist in Florida who apparently infected some of his patients while doing dental work. Studies of viral DNA sequences linked the dentist to six of his patients who were also HIV-infected. The CDC has as yet been unable to establish how the transmission took place.

Despite this one isolated case, further studies of more than 22,000 patients of 63 health care providers who were HIV-infected have found no further evidence of transmission from provider to patient in health care settings. Simply put, don't avoid going to your doctor or your dentist for fear of getting HIV. And if you have concerns, share them with your health care providers at your next visit.

Oral symptoms associated with HIV or AIDS

August 01, 2009

The mouth can serve as an early warning that HIV has entered the system. Here is what may be evident:

  • Candidiasis, also called thrush, is a fungal infection found with HIV.
  • It is often an early warning symptom of HIV.
  • It is usually found in people whose general health is poor.
  • White patches appear on the palate and cheeks. They can be rubbed off leaving raw, red inflamed areas.
  • It is treated with drugs or with topical medications.
  • Toothbrushes should be discarded after each use, to assist the treatment.
  • Periodontitis and gingivitis is common with HIV, despite a careful programme of regular dental care.
  • Antibiotics may be used to control the infection.
Hairy Leukoplakia is common with AIDS
  • It is sometimes the first symptom of HIV, and may indicate rapid progression to AIDS.
  • Corrugated white lesions appear along the sides of the tongue.
  • The lesions themselves have no other symptoms, and they do not respond to treatment.

  • This is a persistently dry mouth and may accompany AIDS.
  • It is not the ordinary dry mouth that can be cured by a glass of water.
  • It can be caused by medication, mouth breathing, ageing, and an inadequate flow of saliva.
  • Saliva substitutes in the form of mouthwashes, lozenges and toothpastes relieve the dryness.
  • Sugarless chewing gum stimulates the flow of saliva and alleviates the dryness.
  • Sialagogues stimulate saliva production and may be considered. Ask your doctor.
Herpes Simplex
  • This causes oral herpes, which is present in 50-60% of HIV patients.
  • This is a chronic infection, with widespread painful blisters and ulcers.
  • It is incurable. Medications may allow it to disappear for a time, but it will re-appear.
  • It is spread by intimate physical contact.
  • Infants can acquire it from their mothers during pregnancy or birth.
  • In people with immune deficiencies it is particularly severe.
  • Prolonged treatment may then be needed.
     Herpes   Herpes
             Herpes                    Herpes     
Aphthous ulcers or canker sores
  • These rounded painful shallow ulcers recur at intervals of a few days to a few months
  • The ulcers are less than 5 mm. in diameter.
  • They have a grey/white centre, with a red inflamed border.
  • The lips, cheeks and the floor of the mouth are affected.
  • The healing period is about 10-14 days.
  • Chlorohexidine mouthrinses appear to have a beneficial effect.
      Canker sore        
Canker sore

Squamous cell carcinoma and lymphoma
  • This is the most common form of mouth cancer in the general population.
  • It also occurs with HIV and AIDS. 
Cancer of the tongue                   Cancer of the lip
Cancer of the tongue                 Cancer of the lip     

Kaposi's Sarcoma
  • This is the most common form of cancer with HIV and AIDS.
          - It is much more common in men than in women.
          - Around a quarter of males with AIDS have this condition.
  • It occurs on the skin as well as in the mouth.
  • It is recognised as a purple to red swelling or as larger multiple nodular growths.
  • Kaposi's sarcoma is treated with a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and biological therapy.
Kaposi's sarcoma
Kaposi's sarcoma

Latest News

Archived News

This Nexus Laboratories website/health guide is provided for general information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. We are not responsible or liable for any diagnosis or action made by a user based on the content of this website. We are not liable for the contents of any external websites listed, nor do we endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. Always consult your own doctor if you are in any way concerned about your health.

Any use of this website constitutes your agreement to our Terms of Use.