STI SCREENING: SYPHILIS
One such sexually transmitted infection that has attracted a lot of media attention recently is Syphilis.
This bacterial infection is transmitted by unprotected sexual intercourse, with soaring infection rates in the UK, especially London. There were almost 3,000 reported cases of Syphilis in London – an increase of 163% since 2010, when there were just over just 1,067 cases.
It’s thought that certain high-risk sexual practises of the UK’s sexually active population are the reason behind the outbreak of this venereal disease. Despite plenty of resources being available for prevention and screening, the incidence of this sexually-transmitted infection is well and truly back on the rise.
So what is Syphilis?
Syphilis one of the oldest recognised sexually-transmitted infections, having plagued populations across the world for hundreds of years. The earliest syphilis outbreak was record in Europe as far back as the 15th Century. Even Shakespeare regularly referred to “the infinite malady” of syphilis in his works.
It is spread by the bacteria Treponema pallidium, by unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles, blood transfusions, or from mother to baby. Infection of pregnant women can also have grave consequences on the foetus, potentially resulting in miscarriage, stillbirth or congenital syphilis.
The first symptom of primary syphilis is usually a sore called a 'chancres'. This may be anywhere on the skin of the genital areas, or sometimes on the mouth, lips or buttocks. This may also be accompanied with swollen glands, in the neck.
These early symptoms of syphilis will usually fade within 2-8 weeks; however, the disappearance of symptoms does not mean the infection has been cleared. Latent syphilis infection – where a person is asymptomatic, but still infected – can last for decades, and can lead to serious complications.
If left untreated, the infection progress into secondary syphilis, presenting with the following symptoms:
- Blotchy rash
- Often on the palms and soles of hands and feet, but can be anywhere on the body.
- Small skin growths (like genital warts)
- White patches in the mouth
- General flu-like symptoms:
- Swollen glands
These symptoms may recur, by fading and subsequently returning. Eventually, chronically untreated syphilis infection can lead to many life-threatening problems, as the infection gains further access into bodily systems after years of untreated infection, such as in ‘neurosyphilis’ and ‘cardiovascular syphilis’.
Can Syphilis be treated?
The simple answer: yes! In our modern society, a syphilis infection doesn’t have to result in such grave consequences mentioned above, and can actually be effectively treated very easily! Since the ground-breaking discovery of antibiotics in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, scientists have developed a simple treatment to the potentially harmful STI – usually with either an antibiotic injection or a course of antibiotics tablets. This treatment cures patients of the infection, relieving symptoms and preventing potential further transmission of infection to others.
Antibiotics are the effective treatment for syphilis.
Overall, the best approach to managing sexually transmitted infections, including syphilis, is to avoid them in the first place, by prevention and screening. All sexually active people should be regularly screened for the most common STI’s, even if not displaying STI symptoms. This is especially important for anyone practising unsafe sex, or multiple casual sexual partners.
Although syphilis generally presents with noticeable symptoms, not all STI's do. It’s thought that between 50-70% of women with Chlamydia do not display any symptoms. Therefore, such asymptomatic people with STI's could potentially being silent carriers of the infection – leading to slower diagnosis and delayed treatment of infections. This can lead to a variety of harmful complications, such as secondary and tertiary symptoms of untreated syphilis.
The best way to avoid potential infection or transmission of STI’s is the use of condoms. This prevents the transmission of infections by bodily fluids, such as semen.
The practise of safe sex, by condom use, is the best way to avoid STI's such as syphilis.
If you’re at all concerned about Syphilis, or any sexually-transmitted infections, please do not hesitate booking in an appointment with a GP. At London Doctors Clinic, we are a private GP clinic in London, offering an efficient, convenient and highly confidential service for full STI screening, diagnosis and treatment.
During a quick 15-minute private GP consultation, you will be able to thoroughly discuss any concerns with the doctor. Then, the GP may recommend one of our many screening blood tests, such as our STI profiles. Alternatively, if it’s one particular STI you think you have been exposed to, you may prefer just the specific test for that infection. For symptomatic patients, an examination may also be required, at the patient’s discretion. Blood tests and swab investigations are charged at an additional fee to the GP consultation.
These tests may require blood or urine samples, or a swab of the affected area. We offer a very quick service for such tests, with many results available same-day. The doctor will then get in contact, usually be email or phone, to explain your test results, and any necessary action required.
As the taboo around sex and STI’s is decreasing in our modern society, there is no reason to be embarrassed about STI tests or screening. Screening and early detection may save a lot of potential unpleasant discomfort in future.