Syphilis is often referred to as the great imitator because the symptoms that it presents are often mistaken for another disease. Syphilis is most common in women between the ages of 20-24 but also is seen in men between the ages of 35-39 years old. The incidence of syphilis doubled in both sexes between the years of 2000-2006.
Syphilis is typically spread through direct contact with the genitals, anus, or mouth of an infected person. It can also be transmitted from mother to child during birth. The primary stage of syphilis is designated by the formation of a single or multiple chancres. Typically this is 21 days after infection but can take up to 90 days. The secondary stage is characterized as a subtle to severe rash appearing typically on the hands and feet. Associated symptoms include: fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. The Late or Latency stage does not have the symptoms associated with the first two stages. Therefore, many people incorrectly believe that they no longer have the infection. The latency stage can take 10-20 years to appear after the onset of the disease. Due to severe internal damage this stage includes symptoms such as: difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, dementia, or death.
Fortunately, syphilis is easily detected through a blood test and can be treated with strong antibiotics. Syphilis can cause extreme developmental disorders, seizures, or even death if infected newborns are untreated.