Syphilis is a disease of four stages. It has an incubation period of between 9 days and 3 months after unprotected sex with an infected person.
The primary stage, often begins with a sore on the part that has been in contact with the infection, the genitals, rectum or mouth. Swelling of the glands in the groin may occur. You do not usually feel ill and the sore heals after a few weeks without treatment. This is a problem because the syphilis has not gone and it continues to spread throughout the body.
The secondary stage can often occur after a gap of several weeks. You may start to feel unwell, with features including headaches, general aches and pains, sickness, loss of appetite and maybe a fever. A rash, flat or raised and not itchy, appears on the palms or feet, backs of legs, front of the arms, on the body or face. Hair loss, swollen glands and sores are also a feature. Signs and symptoms last for between 3 weeks and 9 months.
If no treatment is sought it progresses to a third stage, the latent stage. This can last anywhere between a few months and 50 years! The person ceases to be infectious to others, although a woman can still sometimes pass on the disease to her baby.
The final stage, the tertiary stage, occurs in about a third of those not treated. It causes blindness, paralysis, permanent ulcers and insanity. Not a good way to go.
Increases of sexually transmitted disease such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis also mean unprotected sex is leading to increases in the number of people becoming infected with HIV.
Although protection in the form of condoms does greatly reduce your chances of contracting syphilis in does not eliminate the risk entirely. If you are concerned, especially if you have had sexual contact with someone who has syphilis or have had multiple sexual partners, get tested.
The majority of new cases are among gay men, but we know that the increases in the cases of syphilis will cross into the heterosexual community and out of New York City - it already is.
Drugs are also a feature in the recent upturn in cases of syphilis. One third of men with syphilis used viagra, and men who were infected also reported using crystal meth and poppers.