Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infection (STIs) are infections that may result in a disease affecting the genital system. They are mainly passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse or any contact between the genitals including those of an already infected person. The name STI is associated with infections and STD is associated with diseases. STI is often used because they are some organisms such as chlamydia that can infect a person without causing the actual disease thus STI. A person may not have the symptoms that shows the disease but still has an infection that still needs to be treated.
Basing on current understanding of syphilis, it can be called both STI and STD. It is a bacterial infection caused by Treponama pallidium. Morphologically, T.pallidium is spiral shaped and has ability to barrow through skin. It shows the symptoms of infection (thus disease) as the stages of infection progresses but this may take up to 3 months. It can cause long-term complications if not treated correctly. It can be transmitted after direct contact with a syphilis sore during sexual intercourse or birth. They are possibilities that syphilis can pass from a pregnant mother to an unborn baby. Such an organism causes ulceration on genitals. Due to anal, oral or normal sex, these sores can be found in the rectum, mouth, lips, virginal, penis or throat.
Syphilis disease is on rise in Zimbabwe and remains an important public health concern. More than 30 000 cases of STIs have been reported in Zimbabwe between January and June 2014. Zimbabwean youth of age between 16-26 is the group that is most vulnerable to the disease. Factors that increase risk of exposure include:
Early sexual experimentation
Drug abuse and alcohol
Peer and parential pressure
Driving force from movies and adverts
Poverty and school drop out
Limited access to health services
Lack of knowledge and ignorance at this age has brought question to the elders “what is going to be the future if the whole youth generation is being wiped by the deadly STI”. Research has proved that when someone has got an untreated sexually transmitted disease or infection, they are at a higher risk of getting infected by HIV through a sexual contact. Syphilis can be transmitted to health or non-infected people even if the infected person is showing no symptoms.
In adults, syphilis can divided into stages. These stages are primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.
In this stage, infected person may notice a single sore or multiple sores on an infected body part. The syphilis organism barrows though the skin during infection. A sore is then found at a location at which the organism barrows through. The sore is round and painless. The sore can easily go unnoticed since it is painless. This has been a factor that has led to a high rate of transmission in Zimbabwe. Since there is no pain and lack knowledge, an infected person will not recognise it. They continue have sexual intercourse leading to more spread. It lasts for 2 to 5 weeks and heals automatically whether treatment was taken or not. If treated at this stage, syphilis cannot proceed to secondary stage. So knowledge about syphilis is important so that it can be treated during its light infection.
Skin rashes, sores in your mouth, vagina, or anus can be noticed at this stage. The stage is initiated with rash, it can be found all over the body. Rash is more often on the palms of your hands and the bottoms of your feet. It looks like red or brown-red spots. The rash is usually not itch that it cannot be mistaken chicken pox. It is sometimes so faint that it can also go unnoticed especially in black people. This can also be another factor that leads to high spread in Zimbabwe. Other symptoms include fever, headaches, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, and patchy hair loss. The symptoms will also go away whether treated or not. Without treatment, infection will move to latent stage.
The latent stage of syphilis is initiated when all of the earlier symptoms disappear. During this period, there is no clinical evidence of disease. If you do not receive treatment, you can continue to have syphilis in your body for years without any signs or symptoms. Since they are no symptoms of infection in this stage, transmission is more likely to occur.
At this stage, the infection affects any organ. It can get into the CSF infect meningitis and cause neurosyphilis. It can also cause cardiovascular resulting in aortic aneurysm, aortic regurgitation. Symptoms of the late stage of syphilis include difficulty coordinating your muscle movements, paralysis, blindness, and dementia. In the late stages of syphilis, the disease damages your internal organs and can result in death.
Prevention and way forward
If you think that you have been exposed to syphilis organism then you should go and see the doctor. One who has had an unfaithful and unprotected sexual intercourse is at a greater risk of having been infected. Medical examination is important for syphilis because if the disease goes untreated, it can be mortal (leading to death). When diagnosed with syphilis or found positive then inform everyone you have had sex with within past year to reduce risk of further spreading. A 100% method of prevention is called A.B.C. It is an abbreviation standing for Abstinence, Be faithful and Condomise. Abstinence is the first that is not having sex at all. If you are too sexually active or married, abstinence will not work then you have to be faithful. They are those that cannot even stay faithful due their own reasons, condomising is then a way that assure your safety from syphilis. If you can’t fellow this 3 word method of prevention then you are exposing yourself to the deadly organisms that are currently real threat to humanity. Let us care for ourselves as well as others for others are going to care about you then end this war.